Battling Along the Back Road

burning of Valley

Custer’s Division Retiring from Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, October 7, 1864, by Alfred R.Waud (Library of Congress)

Between September 26 and October 9, 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s agricultural production and processing capacity was targeted and demolished. Author Jeffry Wert would note: “Americans had never before seen such demolition, executed with such skill and thoroughness.” The event, which would become known as “The Burning,” would be a methodical two-week crusade to destroy the Shenandoah Valley as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Crops, barns, farm buildings, mills and even dwellings would be incinerated. Stores of grain, crops, and livestock would be destroyed or appropriated for the use of the Union Army. This was “total warfare” brought to the doorsteps of a civilian population.

General Ulysses Grant advised Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck to see to it that General Jubal Early’s Army was shadowed by “veterans, militia men, men on horseback, and everything that can be got to follow,” with explicit orders to “eat out Virginia clean and clear as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their own provender with them.”

On October 6, George Custer’s 3rd Division broke camp at Dayton, Virginia near dawn, and proceeded in a northerly direction along the North River until they reached the Back Road in the town of Spring Creek. Here fiery destruction was expected to begin in earnest. The targets, however, were to be the “farms inhabited by peaceful Mennonites and Dunkards.” General Custer was sympathetic to the plight of these people and there is no indication that he allowed any of their farm buildings to be torched. Only the grist mills were targeted.

Once Custer’s men crossed the Dry River, however, having left the farms of the Mennonites and Dunkers behind them, the burning began in earnest. Custer’s troopers pushed on gathering livestock of every variety; slaughtering those they could not secure. Union troopers were told “to take all the stock, and to destroy all the supplies on the back road.”

Back Road

Map Showing the Back Road and the Battlefields of Brock’s Gap and Mill Creek.

Cavalry leader General Thomas Rosser commanded the Laurel Brigade, as well as that of General Williams Wickham’s. Evidence of the magnitude of Custer’s efforts would begin to show itself shortly after sunrise. It did not take long for Rebel troopers to mount up and commence their pursuit of Union cavalry. Private Beverly Whittle of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry was involved in the chase. As he progressed along the Back Road he noted: “All along our route were burning barns houses the very air is impregnated with the smell of burning property.” The “Fertile Valley of Virginia is one vast cloud of smoke.”

Newton Burkholder had, early in the war, been a Confederate soldier and later, since January of 1863, a telegraph operator in Harrisonburg. When Union occupation had forced his office to close, Newton had joined a group called the “Winfield’s Guerillas.” As a result, Newton would be a witness to the destruction that was unfolding in the valley. On October 6, 1864 he noted: “Now the whole vale is red with fire mile on mile, and enveloped in smoke high overhead, twisting and writhing, dissolving. See! Yonder goes right at Broadway, John J. Bowman’s mill, Sam Cline’s great stone barn! A sense of our powerlessness oppresses us. Stupidity lays hold on the mind, succeeding consternation. Is the world being set on fire?”

Scores of the men in Rosser’s force had property and family in this part of the Valley. The further they rode the more incensed they became. Confederate troopers were “understrength, underfed and in many cases mounted on horses past their prime.” Enraged, these men were eager to close on the enemy and seek revenge. It did not take long for an opportunity to arise.

James Taylor, who was an artist with Leslie’s Illustrated News, was currently riding with General Custer’s men. In addition to his drawings, Taylor described engagements ascribed to Federal cavalrymen as they burned farm buildings in the Shenandoah Valley. “The main body in columns of fours was in the rear detaching parties to the right and left to burn every mill, barn and haystack to be seen… When the enemy pressed too close, the men would halt and face about, a brisk fullisade would last a few moments, when the graycoats would be off, then trotting on, the rear guard would halt at the edge of the next hill or belt of woods to repeat the operation.”

Battle of Brock's Gap

Map of the Battle of Brock’s Gap

Late in the day on October 6, the 18th Pennsylvania and 5th New York Cavalry had gone into camp near Cootes’ Store at Brock’s Gap. This is the spot where the North Fork of the Shenandoah River pushes through North Mountain at Gap Rock. Here a lane also leads east toward Broadway and New Market. Custer’s men had been held up here for a bit while attempting to drive hundreds of heads of cattle and other livestock across the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. As a result of the delay, Union and Confederate troopers would come into contact.

About 3:30 in the afternoon, troopers in the 2nd Virginia Cavalry were ordered dismounted by Colonel Thomas Mumford and flung against Union cavalrymen who had been posted as skirmishers near Key’s Mill, southwest of the river. When the 4th Virginia Cavalry was added to the attack the Union line began to waver. According to Private Beverly Whittle, as the fighting intensified, the Yankees “broke + ran in confusion.”

Colonel Mumford continued to press his advantage. Custer’s men were soon forced back across Dry River and then across the Shenandoah itself. Some of the New Yorkers panicked and some seventy of them fled to the protection of North Mountain. Rebel horsemen appeared to be on the verge of a significant victory.

Fearing the worst, however, General Custer sent a request to his artillery commander for support. Captains Charles Pierce and Dunbar Ransom brought up their “artillery and posted it on a high hill.” With Union artillery added to the mix, Custer’s retreat was quickly halted and order was soon restored. Even the New Yorkers, who had fled westward into the hills in panic, soon return to the ranks. As Confederate cavalry had no artillery support available, they too withdrew.

The following morning General Rosser continued to nip at the heels of Custer’s troopers as they continued to burn the farms along the Back Road. Custer was now operating in Shenandoah County. The further the men of the Laurel Brigade rode, the more complete the destruction became.

Most of the mills, excluding Zerkel’s Mill at Forestville, were soon consumed by fire. The owner, Samuel Hockman, anticipating impending destruction “ran to the top floor of the mill, leaned out a window under the eaves of the structure, and nailed a United States flag to the peak of the roof.” By acting quickly, and by welcoming Union Cavalry, he was able to save the structure.

Zirkel mill.png

Current Photo of Zerkel’s Mill in Forestville.

Colonel James H. Kidd of Custer’s brigade described the scene as they continued to set fire to Valley structures: “What I saw there is burned into my memory. The anguish pictured in their faces would have melted any heart not seared by the horrors and ‘necessities’ of war. It was too much for me and at the first moment that duty would permit I hurried from the scene.”

Rosser’s men continued to pursue the enemy. George Pond believed the Confederate “zeal was due in part to the excitement of his men at seeing their farms and homes in flames; for many of Early’s cavalrymen were from the region. Their eagerness to extract retribution brought upon them double mortification and suffering.”

Battle of Mill Creek

Map showing Troop movements During the Battle of Mill Creek.

About 3:00 in the afternoon of October 7, the Laurel Brigade reached Mill Creek along the Back Road in the area known as Mount Clifton. Here he found Custer’s men on the opposite bank, once again, stalled just north of the ford by hundreds of heads of livestock, and human refugees. Still lacking artillery support, Rosser quickly ordered Colonel Richard Dulany to take Elijah White’s Battalion of the 35th Virginia, and the 7th Virginia Cavalry downriver to the lower ford and attack Custer on his left flank. Dulaney, encountering Union scouts as soon as he crossed Mill Creek, continued to push on. He quickly ordered the 7th Virginia, with 220 troopers, to charge.

Lieutenant Colonel John Bennett’s 1st Vermont Cavalry, about four hundred strong, were there to greet the charging Virginians. Many of these Green Mountain boys were raw replacements, newly arrived from Vermont. Though a request was sent out for reinforcements only a small detachment from the 8th New York and the 1st New Hampshire Cavalry answered the call. Though the odds were in Federal’s favor, enthusiasm and the desire for revenge was on the side of the Confederates.

While Captain Dan Hatcher led the 1st Squadron of the 7th Virginia Cavalry on its flank attack, Delaney conferred with Captain Frank Myer of White’s Comanches. Myer’s asked for orders, but due to the noise and confusion of the moment, it was impossible to understand each other. Myer’s returned to his men and would act on his own impulses.

On his return, Union troopers were putting up a heavy rifle fire with their Spencer and Henry repeating rifles. “Knowing that his men could not remain in that position a minute longer, Myer’s gave the order to charge, which was performed in the most brilliant style. This he did “with his customary dash.” Just as Hatcher began his attack, General Rosser ordered the 11th and 12th Virginia to charge directly across the stream.

The Comanches now numbered less that two hundred men. “In a very brief space the battalion was among the Yankees. Neutralizing their superiority in numbers and carbines by a very free use of their pistols and sabers.” Custer’s men “put forth a feeble resistance and quickly fell back to their main force.” Though the Confederates “could not get within sword’s distance of their enemy”, the Federals could not withstand the power of the attack.

Custer was soon forced to withdraw north and west along Mill Creek. The fighting would continue until nightfall when Rosser’s men drew back. Overwhelmed, Custer’s troopers retreated under cover of darkness. Casualties were light for both sides. The 7th Virginia had two men killed and one captured. The Comanches “had several men wounded, among them Captain Myers, but none were killed or very badly hurt.”

Mill Creek Sign

State Sign for Battle of Mill Creek.

Rosser would recapture several hundred head of sheep and cattle following the Battle of Mill Creek. He would attempt to return the livestock to the locals. The effort was well received by the residents of the Valley. They would label General Rosser the “Savior of the Valley” as a result of his efforts. It was a brand Rosser would savor for the rest of his life.

Late on October 7, Sheridan would report to Grant: “I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay and farming implements; over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep.”

Mill Creek Battlefield

Current Day Photo of Mill Creek Battlefield.  Mill Creek Runs Left to Right Just Beyond the Trees at the End of the field.

On the morning of October 9, 1864, General Custer and six thousand cavalrymen would sit opposite General Rosser’s thirty-five hundred troopers at Tom’s Brook. Many of these men were posted along the borders of the Back Road. Battle was imminent. Private George W. Hunt of the 15th New York Cavalry watched as General Custer rode beyond his line and addressed his opponent. “In plain view of both armies…Sweeping off his broad-brimmed hat, he threw it down to his knee in a profound salute to his foe.” “Custer replaced his hat, turned to his line of men and the next moment the 3rd Division was sweeping on at a trot, the flaming neck tie and bright curls of Custer before all…” Rosser’s cavalrymen were quickly routed. As a result he battle would be dubbed “Woodstock Races.”

Toms Brook Map

Battle of Tom’s Brook or Woodstock Races

Following the war, General Rosser would divulge his feelings about the enemy and the burning of the Valley. “The soldiers who were required by Gen. Sheridan to lay waste the beautiful Shenandoah Valley with the torch were brave, good men, and were blameless in the part they took, for they only did as they were ordered, and every prisoner seemed heartily ashamed such a cowardly means had been employed in the endeavor to crush a brave people who never declined battle. And who could at all times have been met on the field under the rules and customs of civilized war.”

Warfare in the Shenandoah Valley would soon terminate following the decisive Battles of Tom’s Brook and Cedar Creek. The families, and their descendants, however, would long remember the acts perpetrated by General Sheridan’s troopers. The scars are still evident. Some of the ruins are still visible. In the end, total war, though seldom executed prior to the Civil War, would, regrettably, become the standard for modern armies.

Armstrong, Richard L. 7th Virginia Cavalry. H. E. Howard Inc. Lynchburg, Virginia. 1992.

Barringer, Sheridan. Custer’s Grey Rival: The Life of Confederate Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser. Fox Run Publishing. Burlington, N.C. 2016.

Burkholder, Newton. The Barn Burners: A Chapter of Sheridan’s Raid up the Valley. Southern Historical Society Papers. Volume XXVIII. Richmond, Va. 1900.

Miller, William J. Decision at Tom’s Brook: George Custer, Thomas Rosser, and the Joy of the Fight. Savas Beatie. El Dorado Hills, Ca. 2016

Myers, Frank M. The Comanches: A History of White’s Battalion, Virginia Cavalry. Kelly, Piet & Co., Publishers. Baltimore, Md. 1871.

Taylor, James E. With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley. Morningside House, Inc. Dayton, Oh. 1989,

Death and Carnage at the Coaling

Battery H.png

Members of Battery H, 1st Ohio Light Artillery

Their line of battle was being shredded by a “fierce fusillade.” Captain Daniel Wilson of the 7th Louisiana noted that Union cannon “belched forth one incessant storm of grape, canister and shell, literally covering the valley, so that the work of attack on our part seemed almost hopeless.” Still, these soldiers marched resolutely on “across the low grounds, right after the battery. From its mouth now, with renewed violence, poured streams of shell and shot, mowing down our men like grass. The earth seemed covered with the dead and wounded.”

Gazing out upon the fields on that warm June morning, Union cannoneers had a nearly unobstructed view to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River to their right. To their front they could see more than a mile over open grasslands. The rooftops of the structures in Port Republic were clearly visible. With Confederate troops swiftly overrunning these open meadows, the acreage to their front was quickly becoming a target rich environment. Over the next few hours it would become a virtual killing field.

Seven Union artillery pieces had positioned themselves on “the edge of a spur, on a plateau that had once served as a coaling, a shallow pit used for making charcoal.” The Samuel Lewis family had used this resource to power their blacksmith shop and the family’s nearby iron furnace at Mount Vernon. Here, seventy-five feet above the surrounding plains, artillery pieces were adeptly positioned to sweep “the wheat fields with blasts of deadly grapeshot.”


View from the Coaling Toward the Battlefield at Port Republic. (Brian Swartz)

Captain James F. Huntington, who had charge of Battery H, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, noted that the artillery pieces were placed “on a low ridge near where it began to descend to the brook – Clark’s Battery in the coal pit, and a 12 pounder howitzer of Robinson’s in the space between the coal-pit and the road; my left piece in the road itself, and the others extended in the field on the right. The infantry was concealed in the woods along the main ridge to the rear.”

With Jackson’s infantrymen arriving “under cover of the wood on the right as if intending to attack from that direction,” General Erastus Tyler redeployed his thin blue line, into the wheat field to their front, parallel to Lewiston Lane. The right of the line now extended “nearly to the river.” Huntington noted “three of Clark’s and two of my pieces” went with them. Only the 66th Ohio would remain with the artillery for support some fifty yards to the rear. “A few less than 100 men deployed as skirmishers in the woods on the left practically without support.”

Battery H had mustered in at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio on November 7, 1861. It consisted of six rifled brass ten pounder cannons. The unit had been assigned to General James Shields’ 2nd Division of Banks’ V Corps, and the Department of the Shenandoah until May of 1862. They were then reassigned to Shields’ Division, Department of the Shenandoah through June of 1862.

Captain Huntington noted the final Union “line of battle, so far as we had one, was formed into two distinct and unconnected parts – on the right the infantry and five guns; then a vacant space; the remaining guns were on the extreme left and really held the key of the position.”

Coaling Map Topographic new

Union Artillery and Infantry Placements (Map Sketch: Peter Dalton)

One of the men manning the guns for Battery H was a thirty-six year old laborer from Cincinnati named John Harrison. Born in Westmoreland County, England, Harrison had emigrated to Boston around 1849 where he met and married a young Irish immigrant, named Anastasia Heffernan. At the time of his enlistment John had fathered three children. One can be sure when John migrated to this country, he never thought he would find himself manning an artillery piece, let alone hammering away at Rebel infantry; and yet, here he was.

By six a.m., John’s commander, Captain Huntington, observed some of Jackson’s infantry and artillery as they began to arrive on the battlefield. “An artillery duel ensued, greatly to our advantage, for although our guns were on higher ground, most of the enemy’s shot passed over us, while our shells exploded among them with deadly effect.”

Schenkl artillery shell 2

As it turned out Huntington’s Battery may have been tardy in firing its first rounds. Their artillery pieces discharged what was known as a Schenkl shell. The sabot, which encapsulated part of the projectile, was designed to ensure the correct positioning of the shell in the barrel of the artillery piece. In this case, however, the sabot on the shells were constructed of papier-mâché. Due to all the rain and moisture, the papier-mâché had swollen and some of the shells could not be rammed into the barrels of the guns.

Captain Huntington reported that the rainy weather “has so swelled these sabots that about every other shell would stick in the muzzle of the gun.” Huntington was forced “to set all who could be spared from other duty at paring down the sabots with jack-knives. The artificers and forge drivers were thus employed, and so taken away from the forge they would have otherwise have looked after.”

Meanwhile, General Jackson had dispatched General Charles Winder’s Stonewall Brigade directly into the center of the attack. On the right he forwarded the 2nd and 4th Virginia into the trees along a spine of the Blue Ridge. Their assignment was to dislodge Union artillery situated on the high ground at the Coaling. Though they would mount a direct assault on the position, they would fail in achieving their goal.

Earlier that morning, General Richard Taylor’s Brigade of Louisianans had crossed over a temporary footbridge in Port Republic and gone into camp so they might prepare breakfast. Recognizing that the fighting was intensifying, Taylor rode out ahead of his men in search of General Jackson. “Taylor witnessed the stunning spectacle of the enemy’s artillery working in tandem with the oncoming blue-clad infantry.” Winder’s Brigade “was suffering cruelly. And its skirmishers were driven in on their supporting line.” Taylor realized “it would be no easy matter to defeat such troops…Jackson found he had met men of like metal to his own,”

Upon locating General Jackson, the two men exchanged pleasantries and a measured amount of “ironic humor.” Jackson initially asked Lieutenant Robert English to serve as a guide for Taylor and his brigade. He assigned the Louisianans the task of backing up the troops he had already assigned the mission of seizing the Coaling. General Taylor acknowledged his orders, saluted, and hurried back to get his men moving.

Shortly after Taylor’s departure, though, Jackson’s mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss, appeared. Jackson realized Hotchkiss had an “accurate knowledge of the area” so he also assigned him the task of guiding Taylor’s Brigade. “Take Gen. Taylor around and take those batteries. Pointing to the enemy’s batteries near Gen. Lewis house, which were making sad havoc among our men.”

Jed Hotchkiss noted: “Gen. R. S. Taylor was just then coming up; so I met it and led it, in line of battle, with skirmishers in front, to the right through the woods, until nearly opposite the Gen. Lewis house, when the brigade advanced and charged upon the battery and took it, after being repulsed several times.” “Gen. Wm. B Taliaferro’s Brigade came up, along the western edge of the woods, in time to give the enemy a volley or two by a flank fire. We routed them completely; took at one point a battery of five guns…”

Port Republic map4.png

Final Moments of the Fighting at the Coaling

Back at the Coaling, Captain Huntington was examining the seeming success of Union infantry in their assault on the right. His attention was distracted, however, by the appearance of a new Rebel battery. These guns may have belonged to Captain Robert Chew. Huntington was surveying this activity “through a glass when from the woods on our left rushed forth the Tigers, taking the line in reverse and swarming among Clark’s guns. His Cannoneers made a stout but short resistance, as pistols and sponge staffs do not count for much against muskets and bayonets.”

Clark’s three guns and Robinson’s howitzer were quickly captured. Huntington promptly concluded if his guns were to be saved, they would need to be withdrawn immediately. Huntington ordered his first gun limbered up and directed it to the rear. This piece was successfully extracted.

Huntington then shifted his attention to his second gun. “As the team of the next came up, two of the drivers fell, badly wounded, from their saddles. The remaining driver could not control the frightened animals, they broke away and dashed off with the limber, and the piece was abandoned.”

It is probable Private John Harrison had been assigned to this gun. According to pension records, while John was “riding the lead horse of the piece his horse sunk down in the mud and the saddle horse of the swing team fell on him.” As a result, John experienced a spinal injury which caused his left leg to be partially paralyzed. Incapacitated, John was captured by Confederate infantry.

Huntington now directed his consideration to the third piece. “It was under cover and the drivers were loth to leave it. By that time a force had broken out of the woods in our front, and yelling like demons came pouring up the road, straight for our remaining gun.” The force of which he speaks was the 6th Louisiana Infantry. The gun, which had been loaded previously, was discharged by one of the artillerists. “This opened a lane and checked the onset of that particular lot of Tigers for an instant, in which we limbered up the piece, the cannoneers jumped on, and the drivers lost no time getting away with it to the rear.”

The remaining guns on the Coaling would exchange hands three times before they were finally secured by Taylor’s men. One of the Louisiana soldiers stated they had been met with “a terrific fire.” “When they were driven for the third time they were not disheartened, but wiped out.” Five artillery pieces were captured and Federal troops had been routed. Though victorious, Jackson’s men had paid a harsh price for their prize.

Captain Huntington, himself, was left in the dust of his retreating guns. He “felt rather at a loss what course to take.” His “first impulse was to lie down and surrender, as there seemed to be a very poor prospect of reaching cover with a whole skin. But having a wholesome dread of Southern hospitality as dispensed at that period, I concluded to take the chances and was lucky enough to slip out between the bullets.

Private John Harrison, ensnared by Confederate infantry, was one of more than four hundred and fifty Union soldiers captured. Following the battle, Private Harrison was taken to Lynchburg and then on to Belle Isle Prison at Richmond. John was later paroled at Aiken’s Landing on September 13, 1862.  He was sent on to Camp Banks in Alexandria, where he was discharged for disability on January 31, 1863. John returned home to his family in Cincinnati shortly thereafter. The debilitating effect of his injury, however, would afflict him for the rest of his life.

The retreat of Federal Troops became wide-ranging. Captured Federal artillery pieces were turned on the fleeing enemy. Colonel Samuel Carroll noted the blow put “the rear of our column in great disorder, causing them to take to the woods, and making it for the earlier part of the retreat apparently a rout.”

Jackson’s forces chased Union troops for more than three miles. In addition to the troops that were captured some eight hundred muskets were picked up as well. Huntington recalled the retreat continued all the way to Conrad’s Store where they discovered General Shields lingering with the other two brigades of the division. They rested here briefly and then resumed their retreat to White House Bridge and Luray.

Losses on both sides were substantial. Huntington reported his loss “had been heavy in killed, wounded and missing. In my battery for example, we lost nearly one third of the men actually under close fire.” Tyler lost more than a thousand men in his army. Jackson’s casualties amounted to over eight hundred. As a result, this battle was the costliest of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign.

With the fighting over, Stonewall ordered Jedediah Hotchkiss to guide the army to Mount Vernon Furnace on the road to Brown’s Gap. Here they “encamped on the side of a mountain where it was so steep, we had to pile rocks and build a wall to keep from rolling down when asleep.” In addition, heavy rain fell, soaking everyone and adding further to their misery. Such was the price of victory in Stonewall Jackson’s Army.

Thanks very much to Mike Andrew, Great-Great Grandson of John Harrison, for his contributions and his efforts at maintaining accuracy in this dialog.

Browne, Jr., Edward C. Battery H 1st Ohio Light Artillery: 1861-1865. 2012.

Cozzens, Peter. Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill, N.C. 2008.

Hotchkiss, Jedidiah. Make Me a Map of the Valley. The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Southern Methodist University Press. Dallas, Tx.

Parrish, T. Michael. Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie. University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill.

Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts: The Shenandoah Campaigns of 1862 and 1864 and the Appomattox Campaign 1865. Boston. 1907.

Pension file of John Harrison, National Archives.

Jackson’s Railroad Caper

Julia Chase

Julia Chase

Julia Chase witnessed and chronicled Civil War history as it transpired in her home town. She was one of the so called “devil diarists” of Winchester. On September 2nd, 1861, Julia noted an event which occurred virtually in her front yard. On that day “one of the Engines that was thrown in the river at Martinsburg, when the Confederate Army was at Harper’s Ferry, has been brought into town today by 32 horses, to be taken on to Richmond. It was quite a sight as it passed by — looking very much like an iron monster.”

According to General John D. Imboden, Colonel Thomas Jackson was responsible for this incident, having stemmed from a raid on the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road. The event occurred on May 23, 1861; the very day Virginia voted for secession. According to Imboden, Jackson convinced railroad administrators that trains would only be allowed to pass through Harper’s Ferry during daylight hours as the “noisy night railroad traffic was keeping his soldiers awake.” Later he would demand an additional change to the rules, restricting traffic to a two-hour period between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

On the night of May 22nd, Jackson reportedly sent cavalry to both ends of the of the forty-four mile stretch of railroad track which lay in Virginia territory. “At the end of the busy noontime traffic, just as all these trains had filled up the east and westbound lanes, practically coupler to coupler, Imboden and Harper suddenly halted traffic at midday.” This was affected “by emerging forth and not allowing the trains now coming toward each of their positions to pass and get out of this double-track stretch.” Consequently, Colonel Jackson “bagged” the “largest single haul of rolling stock taken intact during the war.”

According to Imboden’s account, Jackson “caught all the trains that were going east or west between those points, and these he ran up to Winchester, thirty-two miles on the branch road, where they were safe, and whence they were removed by horse-power to the railway at Strasburg. I do not remember the number of trains captured, but the loss crippled the Baltimore and Ohio road seriously for some time, and the gain to our scantily stocked Virginia roads of the same gauge was invaluable.”

Train Raid

Strasburg Historical Society Museum

Many historians have concluded that the raid described by Imboden, in all probability, never actually transpired. Civil War author James I. Robertson “denies that the raid occurred and questions whether the communication between Jackson and railroad officials ever happened. Robertson claims that historians who promote the accuracy of the raid place too much reliance on an 1885 account of the events written by General John D. Imboden, a source that Robertson considers to be unreliable.” “To have severed the B & O would have been a large and direct act of war against civilian commerce.” I tend to concur with Mr. Robertson’s reasoning.

Still, continued reports of engines passing through Winchester indicate that a comparable event undoubtedly happened. Once again, on September 16th, Julia Chase indicated “another of the Engines was brought from Martinsburg today, besides other things on Saturday. It is said that the reason the U. S. Government does not interfere in this case is because the leading Managers of the Balto & Ohio Railroad are Secessionists and they let them do as they please.”

The foundation of the story involving the capture of Baltimore and Ohio engines and rolling stock are actually grounded in an event that occurred on June 19th and 20th of the same year. General Joseph E. Johnston had ordered Colonel Jeb Stuart into Martinsburg on the 19th. Johnston, concerned that Union forces would soon occupy the area, also ordered General Thomas Jackson and his men to join Stuart and destroy the B & O Railroad facility before it could be captured by Union forces.

Jackson arrived in Martinsburg on the afternoon of June 20, and quickly set about tearing up the track and burning the round houses and machine shops. “Some fifty-six locomotives and tenders, as well as at least 305 coal cars, were either set afire, heaved into the Opequon river, or dismantled to the point of uselessness.”


Round House at Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Jackson was conflicted over supervising the destruction of material badly needed by the Confederacy. At Martinsburg, as Jackson proceeded with this “wreckage”, he started to have reservations as he knew the South had a severe shortage of locomotives. He noted that “some of these Baltimore and Ohio engines had not been so very badly burned; after all, there is very little about a locomotive that can ever be destroyed by fire.”

Within a few days Jackson devised a plan with the assistance of two railroad employees, Hugh Longust and Thomas R. Sharp. These men were to select several of the “least damaged locomotives, dismantle the engines, and transport overland by forty-horse teams the thirty-eight miles to Strasburg.” Here they could be placed on the Manassas Gap Railroad and sent safely south. “In this way, fourteen Baltimore and Ohio engines, of every sort and variety, ‘made the Gap’ that summer of ’61.”

Strasburg sign

Sign at Strasburg, Virginia Commemorating Jackson’s Great Train Caper

During early July, Jackson arranged to take the first of the engines out over the turnpike. “A picked group of about thirty-five men, including six machinists, ten teamsters and about a dozen laborers, had been told of the task. They were placed under the immediate charge of Hugh Longust, an experienced and veteran railroader from Richmond. Longust reported in turn to Colonel Thomas R. Sharp, at that time ranked as captain and also as acting quartermaster-general in the Confederate Army.”

The task of moving the trains over the macadam turnpike required crews to first examine “all bridges, strengthened them where it was needed, and fill in holes in the road. Where the road climbed, the army came to the horses’ aid, and two hundred men “added their muscles, shouts, curses and their wild singing to the racket. They could not prevent the engine from occasionally breaking the crust and sinking to its axles, but they could pull it out again.”


“Locomotives Dismantled by the Rebels at Martinsburg in August 1861

Captain Sharps “railroad corps” moved all but one of the locomotives by way of the Manassas Gap Railroad. The last of the captured locomotives, however, was stranded at Strasburg by General Johnston’s evacuation of Manassas Junction. “The B&O camelback Engine number 199 was put on the Manassas Gap Railroad tracks at Strasburg and moved south 25 miles up the Shenandoah Valley to the very end of the line at Mount Jackson, Virginia. From there it was remounted onto the teamster’s heavy-duty wagon trucks and hauled overland on the Valley Turnpike again another 70 miles to Staunton. The trip took four days, and when Engine 199 reached Staunton early in the morning, a majority of the town’s population turned out to witness the incredible sight.” “There, it broke loose on a hill and careened wildly through the town until it came to rest in a bog.” Fortunately, nobody was injured.

Due to the threat caused by General McClellan’s advance on Richmond in the spring of 1862 all of the captured locomotives were sent on to a location in North Carolina, about fifty miles west of Raleigh. Here, at the shop buildings of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad, the locomotives were refitted. The “Confederate States locomotive shops” were officially established here and all of the captured engines were put back into operation by mid-1863. This equipment would do much to fortify the Confederate rail system.

Following the war, all but one of the captured locomotives were returned to service on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. One of the locomotives was not restored, however. Engine No. 34, had been badly damaged during a Union cavalry raid and put out of service. The boiler from that engine was installed in the Confederate ironclad, CSS Neuse. The Neuse never saw active service and was later destroyed in March of 1865. Burned to the waterline, the remains of the Neuse and thousands of artifacts were eventually salvaged and put on display at the museum at Kinston, North Carolina.


The Neuse was Constructed from the Plans of Her Sister Ship the Albemarle.

Much of the written history of Jackson’s great train caper was penned based on a questionable account authored by General John Imboden. Jed Hotchkiss, in a letter written in April 1895 to historian G. F. R. Henderson, spoke of his friend. “I do not like to say that my friend is unreliable; and yet the truth of the matter is that his statements will not bear the tests of criticism. … He writes from a confused memory and never takes the trouble of verifying his statements by a reference to documents.”

Though the details may be contested, the facts remain. General Jackson was responsible for making a huge contribution to Southern rail transportation system which undoubtedly extended the war making capability of the Confederacy. As always, it is our responsibility to sort truth from fiction. Hopefully this narrative has done that.

Imboden, John DBattles & Leaders of the Civil War.

Mahon, Michael. Winchester Divided. The Civil War Diaries of Julia Chase and Laura Lee. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, Va. 2002.

Robertson, James I. Stonewall Jackson. The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Macmillan Publishing. New York, N.Y. 1997.

Star Fort: A Garrison of “Sturdy Stone and Wooded Gun Platforms.”

Start Fort Charge

Cavalry Charge on Star Fort September 19, 1864

By late afternoon on September 19, 1864, General Jubal Early had spent his army attempting to repel attacks launched by General Philip Sheridan’s three Infantry Corps. At the same time, Sheridan’s cavalry, under General Alfred Torbert, had brawled with Confederate mounted troops all day north of Winchester. General Torbert commanded three formidable cavalry divisions which, by themselves, numbered almost as many troopers as General Jubal Early had infantry. Early’s cavalry, ill equipped in both arms, horses, and accoutrements, had done their best to resist these assaults, but had been pushed steadily back toward Winchester.

Lieutenant Colonel Onslow Bean’s tiny cavalry brigade had received repeated strikes from General Averell’s Cavalry Division during the course of the day. About mid-afternoon General Martinus Schoonmaker’s Union Brigade had pressed them back through a wooded area along the Welltown Road. Bean’s commander, Major General Fitzhugh Lee, had reassembled his troopers, and distributed them along a stone wall just south of Red Bud Run. Here he would attempt to make a stand with his rapidly thinning line of Confederate horsemen.


General Martinus Schoonmaker

Once again, Averell’s two divisions prepared to renew their attack. With “sabers drawn, bands playing, flags and banners unfurled” two full cavalry divisions crashed into the weakened Confederate line. The diminished Rebel force could not hold against such pressure. As Colonel Bean’s Brigade of Tennesseans was routed, he directed his men toward the ramparts and trenches surrounding Star Fort. Some cavalrymen from Colonel Thomas Smith’s Virginian Brigade followed along behind them as well. The Rebels were determined to put the fort to task.

Meanwhile, General Averell, disordered by success, regrouped his men once again. General Sheridan had sensed an opportunity for his cavalry to make a grand charge. The landscape “was open, and offered an opportunity such as seldom had been presented during the war for a mounted attack.” Averell did not agree with Sheridan’s instructions and relayed the opinion that their horses were too exhausted from chasing rebel cavalrymen all day. Averell noted they “couldn’t move faster than a walk.”

General Sheridan’s orders were not to be flouted. Schoonmaker’s and Powell’s troopers deployed into line on the right. Merritt’s three brigades did the same on the left. As Averell gave the order to charge, Schoonmaker’s 8th Ohio, and 14th and 22nd Pennsylvania Regiments, rumbled forward toward Star Fort.

Some eight thousand Union Cavalrymen, in all, were partaking in the largest cavalry assault of the entire Civil War. General George Custer noted the scene “furnished one of the most inspiring as well as imposing scenes of martial grandeur ever witnessed upon a battlefield. No encouragement was required to inspirit either man or horse.”

George Carpenter, in his regimental history of the 8th Vermont Infantry, was also a witness to the Cavalry charge. He wrote: “In solid columns, with drawn sabers flashing in the sun, troopers burst at a gallop upon the surprised enemy. It was like a thunder-clap out of a clear sky, and the bolt struck home.”

Captain Theophilus F. Rodenbough of the 2nd U. S. Cavalry would write: “At the sound of the bugle, we took the trot, the gallop and then the charge. As we neared the line we were welcomed by a fearful blast of musketry, which temporarily confused the leading squadron… Instantly, officers cried out ‘Forward! Forward!’ The men raised their sabers and responded to the commands with deafening cheers… In a moment we were face to face with the enemy. They stood as if awed by the heroism of the brigade, and in an instant broke in complete rout, our men sabering them as they vainly sought safety in flight.” Rodenbough would loose his right arm in the fighting at 3rd Winchester.

Star Fort Map

Union Grand Cavalry Charge at 3rd Winchester

Fitz Lee’s cavalry was outnumbered more than four to one. There was no way his Spartan line of horsemen could withstand the weight of Torbert’s charge. Though the position at Star Fort was a formidable one, Bean did not have the numbers required to hold it. Panic seized his Rebel troopers and they rapidly withdrew from the fortification, escaping to the south and west.

Schoonmaker made the decision not to occupy the fort. He and his men rode on past the east side of the fortification and prepared to take on Fort Jackson to the South. Though Southern horsemen had offered stubborn resistance at every fence line, barricade, and fort, by nightfall Winchester was firmly in Union hands.

General Schoonmaker would, himself, be honored with the Medal of Honor on May 19, 1899, for leading the attack on Star Fort. The citation reads: “During the Battle of Star Fort, Virginia, at a critical period, gallantly led a cavalry charge against the left of the enemy’s line of battle, drove the enemy out of his works, and captured many prisoners.”

The choice of the location for the building of Star Fort dates back to the beginning of the Civil War. The site was located about one and a half miles north of Winchester and the same distance west of the Valley Pike.  Stonewall Jackson had first taken advantage of this high ground by creating artillery emplacements there in 1861. At the time the stronghold had been dubbed Fort Alabama.

It was Union troops, however, that “began constructing the irregular eight-sided earthwork.”  Union Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy had, in early 1863, taken advantage of this lofty ground northwest of Winchester. He built a garrison of “sturdy stone and wooded gun platforms” borrowed from “privately owned buildings ripped apart for that purpose.”

Star Fort was constructed as an artillery platform designed to cover the open ground north of Winchester. A ring of rifle pits was dug around the fort to further strengthen it. “Though the rife pits didn’t perform the function to elevate the line off the parapet, those pits did function to provide a line of resistance some distance off the main ditch.” The fort was “flanked by rifle trenches” and could “theoretically” hold “more than 1500 defenders and up to eight guns.”

Star Fort Maps

Sketch of Star Fort

The fortification had also played a major role in the fighting around the city during the Gettysburg Campaign. On June 12, 1863, the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia under General Richard S. Ewell, with three infantry divisions numbering nearly 19,000 combatants, had entered the Shenandoah Valley at Chester Gap. The force had split up, with General Jubal Early’s Division continuing north along the Valley Pike, and a second, under General Edward Johnson, marching along the Front Royal Road. Ultimately, they would converge on Winchester and threaten the defending force under General Robert Milroy.

Despite the strength of the army rumored to be approaching, Milroy was confident that the potency of his defenses would enable him to repel any Confederate attack or siege. The elevations west of town “were heavily fortified and consisted of trenches linking central strong points or ’forts’. The strongest of these were Fort Milroy and Star Fort.” Despite orders to the contrary, General Milroy chose to defend Winchester.

The first collisions between Union and Confederate troops occurred on June 12th. By June 13 the two adversaries found themselves locked in mortal combat. Fighting would take place upon ground fought over previously by many of the soldiers. Land surrounding the old Kernstown Battlefield, including Pritchard’s Hill and Sandy Ridge, were wrestled over once again. Participants in the 1st Battle of Winchester had frequented this ground during Jackson’s Valley Campaign. As the day progressed Jubal Early’s Division began to flank Milroy on the left while General Edward Johnson’s Division skirted him on the right. By the end of the day General Milroy was nearly surrounded.

2nd winchester map

Map of 2nd Battle of Winchester

On the following day, June 14, both Early and Johnson continued to pressure General Milroy from both the east and west. About 6:00 p.m. Early’s forces attacked and captured West Fort.  On command, Hay’s brigade “rushed forward across 300 yards of open fields and swept upward into the works. After a brief hand-to-hand struggle, the Federal defenders abandoned the works, retreating to Fort Milroy, while their own captured artillery were turned around and used against them.”

By 9:30 p.m., Lieutenant Colonel McKellip of the 6th Maryland Infantry, Union, informed his men he expected an attack on their position at Star Fort. He pulled his troops from the rifle pits in front of the fort into the stronghold itself where they could support the Baltimore Battery. Lieutenant H. E. Alexander of the 6th Maryland did not believe “ten thousand men could have taken us, from the calmness and firmness which the Sixth Maryland evinced.”

Colonel Andrew McReynolds, commander of General Milroy’s Third Brigade, informed Captain F. W. Alexander’s Baltimore Battery that he was expecting an attack on their position in the next thirty minutes. Captain Alexander instructed his artillerymen to load their guns with canister and to make ready for the coming assault.

McReynolds was correct in his assessment. Within minutes Confederate troops began to appear in front of Star Fort. One member of the battery, Fred Wild, recorded that as “they were coming up, we fired grape and canister into them as fast as the guns could be loaded… A display of pyrotechnics that was awfully, terribly grand.” Within minutes the Rebel attack was repulsed.

Shortly after midnight, Union soldiers began leaving their works. It was completed so quietly that Early’s Confederates did not know they had left until daybreak. Alexander was forced to spike his guns and leave them behind. They were abandoned at Star Fort in the exact spots where they had discharged their last rounds at the charging enemy.

The retreating column massed in the low ground between Star Fort and Fort Milroy, then moved down the railroad and the Valley Pike toward the Charles Town crossroad, just south of Stephenson’s Depot. For most escape was not in the cards. Star Fort fell to the Confederates without firing a single shot and the vast majority of Milroy’s command would be captured that same morning. The 2nd Battle of Winchester had ended as a Confederate victory. It was among one of the most brilliantly conceived, and skillfully executed, assaults of the war.

Start Fort Photo

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation Marker at Star Fort

Still, preservation of Star Fort did not become a reality until more than one hundred and forty years after the Civil War. The initial protection of the property came to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation in 2006 and 2007 from donations made by the families of Mr. Seth Hardison, Mr. Dean Smith, and from the now defunct Middlesex Artillery-Fleet’s Battery.

A recent 10-acre addition has allowed the preserved site to grow to 20 acres. The conservation of the additional property was made possible by extremely generous donations made by the landowners, Dr. Byron Brill, Seth Hardison, and Dean Smith. “They donated 50% of the fair market value of the property – a $375,000 donation with a property that was valued at $750,000.”

The preserved land which surrounds Star Fort, will allow the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation a location from which they will be able to tell the role played by the strong hold in the battles fought around Winchester. As these sites are conserved so too are the memories of the combatants who battled and perished there. It is a part of  the Shenandoah Valley’s history that must be, and has been, preserved.

Morris Jr., Roy. Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan. Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, N. Y. 1992.

Noyalas, Jonathan. Sabers War and Memory. The Wars Largest Cavalry Charge Sealed a Union Victory and Inspired Postwar Artists. Civil War Times Magazine. February 2019. Vienna, Va.

Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Early, CSA. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, N. C. 1992.

Ovies, Adolfo. Crossed Sabers. General George Armstrong Custer and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. 2004.

Patchan, Scott. The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Savas Beatie, California. 2013.

The Aftermath of Cedar Creek: Union Rejoicing Amid Grim Realities

by Douglas Kramer

Edmund Miles1

Edmund Miles (Massachusetts Historical Society)

The victory of Sheridan’s army at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864 was widely celebrated in the North. Some historians credit Sheridan’s victories in the Shenandoah Valley, along with Sherman’s in Georgia, as providing a tonic to a war-weary population in the North, thus helping ensure Lincoln’s re-election in November 1864.

Of course, even Sheridan’s decisive win at Cedar Creek came at a cost – some 5,665 killed, wounded, or missing. Nowadays this seems a grim but sterile statistic, but there were thousands of family members who would never again see their father, husband, brother, or relatives again. One of those wounded was First Sergeant Edmund Miles of the Third Massachusetts Cavalry (dismounted). The story of Miles and his family gives one example of how a mixture of joy and relief that the war seemed to be coming to an end, was at the same time tempered by personal suffering.

Miles was born 1825 in Halesworth, England. When still a young boy, his family moved to Montreal. It was in Montreal that Edmund learned the printing trade, and also where he married Elizabeth Cribb in May 1848. Shortly thereafter the young couple moved to the U.S. and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Edmund continued to work as a printer. By 1862, their family had grown with the addition of six children – four boys and two girls. A third girl, Georgina, would be born in 1865. As an older family man, Edmund might have been able to avoid military service altogether, but he and his wife believed in the Northern cause, so he enlisted in the army in August 1862 for three years’ service.

Edmund’s regiment was originally designated the 41st Massachusetts infantry. It was sent to join General Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf in Louisiana, and later became part of the 19th Army Corps. Miles, who at age 36 was probably one of the older enlisted men, was promoted to sergeant in November 1862. In June 1863, however, the unit was transformed into the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry, as Banks was short of mounted troops. Miles was wounded in April 1864 during a cavalry engagement at Muddy Bayou in the latter phases of Banks’ Red River campaign. The wound seems not to have been serious, as he was back on duty in May.

By the end of June 1864, the 3rd was converted back into an infantry unit, much to the dismay of its soldiers. In a letter to his wife, Miles said many of his colleagues were seeking to be transferred to the navy, “for they say they will never serve as infantry, to have to carry a gun and march 15 to 20 miles a day on a march, and I don’t blame them.” Miles quipped he couldn’t see joining the navy himself, as he was prone to sea-sickness.

In July, the 3rd Massachusetts, along with the bulk of the 19th Corps, was transferred to Virginia. The units were sent briefly to the trenches outside Petersburg, but when Confederate General Jubal Early threatened Washington, the 19th Corps was rushed off to the capital. Eventually it became part of General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah.

Like many Union soldiers, Miles was impressed by the Shenandoah Valley. On September 26, 1864, he wrote his wife from Harrisonburg, “This part of the country is most beautiful; it surpasses any that I have seen yet. It is nothing but a continuous series of rich farms, with every ten or fifteen miles is a town, and on each side is mountain after mountain, hill after hill.”

Miles’ luck, however, would run out at the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, where he suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. He would be among the 77 killed and wounded casualties suffered by the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry (dismounted). Miles recovery was slow. A surgeon wanted to amputate his leg, but Miles reportedly dissuaded him by threatening the doctor with a revolver. He kept his leg, but suffered from the injury for the rest of his life. Although his wife’s letters from November express the hope that he might be able to return home soon, in mid-January 1865 she visited him in the hospital in Philadelphia and he was still not well.

Miles’ superiors in the regiment nominated him for a promotion to second lieutenant in November 1864. The promotion was never confirmed by the War Department, perhaps due to the severity of his injuries. By March 1865, he had been transferred to a hospital closer to home, in Readville, Massachusetts (now a neighborhood in Boston). In the end, Miles was mustered out as a first sergeant on June 14, 1865 – the surgeon’s notes on his discharge papers indicate he was not eligible to reenlist, as Miles’ leg was lame due to damage to the tibia caused by necrosis.

Still, during his convalescence, his family did their best to maintain his morale. On December 23, 1864, his 15-year-old son Edmund sent him a letter, enclosing a “Reward of Merit” given him by his teacher. In the letter, “Eddie” wrote, “I saw a piece of poetry in a paper the other day that I thought you would like. It is entitled ‘The Battle of Cedar Creek’ and reads as follows:

The Battle of Cedar Creek

Old Early camped at Fisher’s Hill

Resolved some Yankee blood to spill;

He chose his time when Phil was gone,

The Yankee camp to fall upon.


Get out of the way says Gen. Early

I’ve come to drive you from the Valley


At night, life [sic] thief, of sense bereft,

He marched his troops around our left;

His orders strict unto his boys,

To nothing take t’would make a noise.

While they were on their mission bent,

We Yanks were sleeping in our tents;

Until the Rebs with rousing volley,

Warned us to sleep was death and folly.


Old Early carried out his plan,

Surprising Crook and his command,

Who had not time their lines to form,

So sudden came the rebel storm.

Now when the Eighth Corps all had run,

Old Early thought it jovial fun;

But Gen. Grover, (God bless his name)

Said he would help them play the game.


He formed a line the pike along,

To check Old Early and his throng,

And he held the Rebs at bay

Till he was flanked from every way.

This gave the Sixth Corps time to form

Who bravely faced the rebel storm,

Till the Nineteenth Corps had time to rally

To stop the rebels in the valley.


Now the Johnnies thought the victory won,

And their usual pillaging begun,

Robbing the dead and wounded too,

As none but Southern bloods can do.

Now when the day was almost lost,

God sends a reinforcing host.

The host he sends is but a man,

But that’s the noble Sheridan.

[New refrain]

Now turn your tune says he to Early,

You’ve come to[o] late to get the valley.

On, on he comes with lightning speed,

Crying who hath done this awful deed,

He’d better fare ‘neath southern skies,

Who does my sleeping camp surprise.

Get out of the way says Phil to Early

You’ve come too late to get the valley.

Ah, there another word is heard,

And Liberty’s the rallying word;

And every heart is filled with pride,

To see their gallant leader ride.

Saying form quick and we’ll the fight renew,

And see what right with wrong can do,

By night our camp we will regain,

And vengeance have for these they’ve slain.

Then orders flew from left to right

And glorious was the evening sight,

The rebels flew ‘’mid the cannon’s roar,

Losing all they’d gained and thousands more.”

The author of this bit of doggerel is not known, although from its viewpoint, it appears to been written by someone in the 19th Corps, possibly someone in Grover’s division. To be fair, the author’s praise of Brigadier General Cuvier Grover’s actions in the battle was not echoed by all. Unlike Crook’s Army of Western Virginia, whom the Confederates hit first, Grover’s men were not surprised in their tents. They were up and under arms when the Confederate attack was launched, as Grover’s division was slated to conduct a reconnaissance in force that morning. When he heard the firing of Early’s pre-dawn attack, Grover, in perhaps an understandable first reaction, ordered his men into their entrenchments facing south along Cedar Creek. Not realizing in the fog, confusion, and darkness that the Confederate attack was coming from the east, Grover’s order was, at least in hindsight, a mistake, for it exposed his left flank to Early’s attack.

Grover, and 19th Corps commander William Emory, soon realized their predicament. They then faced the very difficult task of repositioning the 19th Corps to face east while they were experiencing a strong Rebel attack. Like Crook’s Army of Western Virginia before it, in a little more than an hour, the 19th Corps was routed.

Nonetheless, the poem (which very well may be a song lyric) does exemplify the joy and pride Northerners felt over the victory at Cedar Creek. This was especially so as the Confederates had scored a great success in the first part of the battle, only to be chased from the field when Sheridan launched a devastating counter-attack in the afternoon.

Presumably, Edmund Jr. thought it might cheer up his father, who was still lying in the hospital. The large number of songs that came out during the Civil War, be they patriotic or sentimental, helped bolster and assuage the emotions of those both on the battlefields and on the home front. Since there are no remaining letters from Edmund Sr. from this period, we cannot tell if he agreed with the brash patriotic sentiments of the poem his son had sent him.

After the war, Edmund returned to Cambridge and resumed his work as a printer and compositor for John Wilson & Sons (later the Cambridge University Press), until his retirement in 1896. He was an active member of veterans’ and charitable organizations and died in 1899 in Hingham, Massachusetts. Sadly, only one of Miles’ four sons survived to full adulthood. Edmund Jr. (“Eddie”) died of heart disease in 1870 at the age of 20.

Note: Douglas Kramer is a guest contributor to this blog, a Civil War enthusiast, and a friend. Doug served 29 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, and is now retired.  He lives part of the time in the Shenandoah Valley and is working on a biography of Union General Cuvier Grover, who served under General Sheridan.


– Edmund Miles Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, available online at

– James K. Ewer, The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War for the Union (Maplewood, MA: The William G. J. Perry Press, 1903), available online at


And men will tell their children,
Tho’ all other memories fade,
How they fought with Stonewall Jackson
In the old Stonewall Brigade.”

A tiny clutch of Civil War veterans, “dressed in faded and tattered gray uniforms, white whiskers” gathered in Lexington, Virginia on July 20, 1891. It was one day shy of the thirtieth anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run. Thirty years previous, on that storied battlefield, these warriors had received their baptism of fire. For the members of the “First Brigade” they had also received a label related to the bold stand they had made on Henry Hill. That brand was “Stonewall”, and it was applied equally to them and to their famous leader, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

A diminutive remnant of the Stonewall Brigade congregated on this cool July day to honor their heroic leader. This small band of men, amidst a throng of some thirty thousand spectators, had gathered for what they were calling their “final muster.” They were here, not for individual recognition, but for the dedication of a graveside statue honoring General Jackson.

Jackson Memorial

Graveside Monument to General Stonewall Jackson

In the midst of all the people, and related celebration, this handful of Civil War veterans seemingly vanished. Some thought that these men had grown weary of all the merriment and had returned home to serener surroundings. In actuality this band of brothers had quietly relocated themselves to the cemetery. Following an extended search by event organizers they were finally located near midnight “huddled in blankets and overcoats around Jackson’s statue in the cemetery.”

When these old veterans were asked if, as their honored guests, they would consider relocating to a warmer, more comfortable location they were met with silence. Finally, one of the veterans responded: “Thank ye, sirs, but we’ve slept around him many a night on the battlefield, and we want to bivouac once more with Old Jack.” And that is exactly what they did.

When Civil War came to the Shenandoah Valley in 1861 these men had gathered to offer their service to the defense of the State of Virginia, and to the newly inaugurated Confederacy. On June 13, 1861, the Lexington Gazette described the future representatives of the Stonewall Brigade as “one of the finest looking bodies of young soldiers that have been sent from this portion of the state. … The patriotic fire which animated the breasts of the boys of Liberty Hall in the days of our Revolutionary struggle is still alive in the hearts of their worthy descendants.”


The Regiments of the Stonewall Brigade
(company letter, nickname, where members were from, and first captain)

Second Regiment
Company A – Jefferson Guards, Jefferson Co. WVA, John W. Rowan
Company B – Hamtramck Guards, Shepardstown, WVA, Vincent M. Butler
Company C – Nelson Rifles, Millwood, VA , William Nelson
Company D – Berkeley Border Guards, Berkeley, WVA, J.Q.A. Nadenbousch
Company E – Hedgesville Blues, Martinsburg, WVA, Raleigh T. Colson
Company F – Winchester Riflemen, Winchester, VA, William L. Clark, Jr.
Company G – Botts Greys, Charlestown, WVA, Lawson Botts
Company H – Letcher Riflemen, Duffields community, VA, James H.L. Hunter
Company I – Clarke Rifles, Berryville, VA, Strother H. Bowen
Company K – Floyd Guards, Harper’s Ferry, WVA, George W. Chambers

Fourth Regiment
Company A – Wythe Grays, Wythewille, VA, William Terry
Company B – Fort Lewis Volunteers, Big Spring area, VA, David Edmondson
Company C – Pulaski Guards, Pulaski Co., VA, James Walker
Company D – Smythe Blues, Marion, VA, Albert G. Pendleton
Company E – Montgomery Highlanders, Blacksburg, VA, Charles A. Ronald
Company F – Grayson Daredevils, Elk Creek community, VA, Peyton H. Hale
Company G – Montgomery Fencibles, Montgomery Co., VA, Robert G. Terry
Company H – Rockbridge Grays, Buffalo Forge & Lexington, VA, James G. Updike
Company I – Liberty Hall Volunteers, Lexington, VA, James J. White
Company K – Montgomery Mountain Boys, Montgomery Co., Robert G. Newlee

Fifth Regiment
Company A – Marion Rifles, Winchester, VA, John H.S. Funk
Company B – Rockbridge Rifles, Rockbridge Co. VA, Samuel H. Letcher
Company C – Mountain Guard, Staunton, VA, Richard G. Doyle
Company D – Southern Guard, Staunton, VA, Hazael J. Williams
Company E – Augusta Greys, Greenville community, VA, James W. Newton
Company F – West View Infantry, Augusta Co. VA, St. Francis C. Roberts
Company G – Staunton Rifles, Staunton, VA, Adam W. Harman
Company H – Augusta Rifles, Augusta Co., VA, Absalom Koiner
Company I – Ready Rifles, Sangerville community, VA, Oswald F. Grimman
Company K – Continental Morgan Guards, Frederick Co., John Avis
Company L – West Augusta Guards, Staunton, VA, William S.H. Baylor

Twenty-Seventh Regiment
Company A – Allegheny Light Infantry, Covington, VA,  Thompson McAllister
(later transferred to artillery and known as Carpenter’s Battery)
Company B – Virginia Hiberians, Alleghany Co. VA, Henry H. Robertson
Company C – Allegheny Rifles, Clifton Forge, VA, Lewis P. Holloway
Company D – Monroe Guards, Monroe Co., WVA, Hugh S. Tiffany
Company E – Greenbrier Rifles, Lewisburg, WVA, Robert Dennis
Company F – Greenbrier Sharpshooters, Greenbrier Co., Samuel Brown
Company G – Shriver Grays, Wheeling, WVA, Daniel M. Shriver
Company H – Rockbridge Rifles, originally Co. B, 5th regiment, Samuel Houston Letcher.

Thirty-Third Regiment
Company A – Potomac Guards, Springfield, Hampshire Co. WVA, Phillip T. Grace
Company B – Tom’s Brook Guard, Tom’s Brook, Shenandoah Co. VA, Emanuel Crabill
Company C – Tenth Legion Minute Men, Woodstock, Shenandoah Co., VA, John Gatewood
Company D – Mountain Rangers, Winchester, Frederick Co., VA, Frederick W.M. Holliday
Company E – Emerald Guard, New Market, Shenandoah County VA, Marion M. Sibert
Company F – Independent (Hardy) Greys, Moorefield, Hardy Co. WVA, Abraham Spengler
Company G – Mount Jackson Rifles, Mount Jackson area, Shenandoah Co., VA, George W. Allen
Company H – Page Grays, Luray, Page Co. VA, William D. Rippetoe
Company I – Rockingham Confederates, Harrisonburg, Rockingham Co. VA, John R. Jones

Company K – Shenandoah Sharpshooters, Shenandoah Co. VA, David H. Walton


This gathering of volunteers was channeled into five infantry regiments which included the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia, as well as the Rockbridge Artillery. Together they would form the body of the “First Brigade.” Each of these regiments would be unique and, in time, each would earn its own nickname. There was the “Innocent Second” because they never looted; “The Harmless Fourth” for their good camp manners; “The Fighting Fifth” for bad camp manners; “The Fighting Twenty-Seventh” for its high casualty rate; and “The Lousy Thirty-third” for its habit of acquiring body lice.

This “First Brigade” would fight, as was mentioned before, at First Bull Run. In 1862 they would carry their fervor back to the Shenandoah Valley as the Stonewall Brigade and fight in Jackson’s Valley Campaign. They would be heavily engaged at First Kernstown, and by the time the brigade marched off toward McDowell, on May 7, 1862, the unit would number some 3681 combatants, averaging 736 men per regiment. By the end of the Second Manassas Campaign in August of the same year, however, the corps would have just 635 members, and average some 127 per regiment. A couple of the companies would have only two or three attending members.

Stonewall J

Old Stonewall Jackson

The brigade would fight in the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, and at Fredericksburg in 1862. They would be at Chancellorsville in the Spring of 1863 where their gallant leader, General Stonewall Jackson, was mortally wounded. They would battle gallantly at Gettysburg, and in the spring of 1864, would be present for the Overland Campaign.

At Spotsylvania Courthouse, on May 12, 1864, the brigade would brawl on the left flank of the “Mule Shoe” salient, in an area that would be known as the “Bloody Angle. Early that morning General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps would launch a massive assault. The fighting was hand to hand and very bloody. All but 200 men of the Stonewall Brigade were killed, wounded, or were among the 6,000 Confederates captured. Losses were so severe that the Stonewall Brigade was unofficially dissolved and consolidated into a single regiment.

When the 1864 Valley Campaign began there were only 249 men left in the five regiments that had originally constituted the Stonewall Brigade. Company A of the 33rd Infantry, for example, had just one man left and he was on sick leave. To add potency nine other regiments were added to the brigade to bolster its effectiveness. William Terry, an original member of the Stonewall Brigade, was appointed as its leader.

The Brigade would fight in all of the battles of the 1864 Valley Campaign under General John Gordon, from Lynchburg to the gates of Washington and back. At the Third Battle of Winchester they would arrive on the battlefield at a critical moment in time to receive and repulse General Cuvier Grover’s attack. Reflexively they responded with their own counterattack. Gordon’s men fought savagely but they were soon overwhelmed.

The Stonewall Brigade was forced to retreat and had barely reached their new defensive line when Federal cavalry slammed into their left flank. General Terry was seriously wounded and the brigade was horribly handled. The 2nd Virginia lost its battle flag and the brigade most of its men. The Stonewall Brigade was, once again, forced to give way. Many would blame them for the Confederate loss at 3rd Winchester.

Following their defeats at 3rd Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek, the Stonewall Brigade returned to Lee’s Army. They served there in the trenches during the Siege of Petersburg and, ultimately, during the Appomattox Campaign. When Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia finally surrendered only 219 of the nearly 6000 men that served in the brigade during the war were present for the surrender.

Back, once again, to that memorable morning of July 21, 1891, when that tiny band of veterans arose early from their impromptu encampment at the cemetery in Lexington. The men enjoyed a light breakfast in anticipation of the day’s events. In due time the Stonewall Jackson monument was unveiled and dedicated. As the ceremony closed the remaining members of Stonewall Brigade “fell into ranks for the last time.” The old soldiers marched leisurely out of the cemetery and out of what they believed was the final chapter of their history. It is reported one of the old soldiers turned to Jackson’s grave and whispered: “Goodbye, old man, goodbye. We’ve done all we can for you!”

These graying survivors of the Stonewall Brigade may have done all they could for General Jackson but this was not to be their final chapter. Their descendants would continue to sacrifice for their nation. With the coming of the Spanish-American War the unit was reconstituted as the 2nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry. Though they did not actually see battle, they were sent to Florida and acted in a reserve capacity. With the end of the conflict they returned to Virginia.

On June 3, 1916, the Stonewall Brigade was transformed, once again, and admitted as an element of the Virginia National Guard. In August 1917, the old Stonewall Brigade was drafted, once again. The descendants of those Civil War veterans became part of the 116th Infantry Regiment, and assigned to the 29th Infantry Division. They were quickly sent overseas as part of the American Expeditionary Force.

The regiment distinguished itself in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October of 1918. From the 8th to the 22nd of October, the regiment was heavily engaged and suffered enormous casualties. At the conclusion of the offensive, these sons and grandsons of Shenandoah Valley Civil War veterans, found 198 of their comrades had been killed outright. More than a thousand had been wounded, and 59 of these would die from their injuries. To their credit the regiment captured more than 2,000 German prisoners, 250 machine guns, and 29 high-caliber guns. They were mustered out of service on May 30, 1919.

When war came once again to the world, the grandsons and great-grandsons of these Civil War veterans were once again called to duty. The men were assigned to companies in the 116th Infantry, as before, representing the towns and counties of the Shenandoah Valley. Company C originated from Harrisonburg, Company K from Charlottesville, Company I from Winchester, Company L from Staunton, and Company A from Bedford.

The regiment would sail off to Europe in 1944 and were given the honor of being the only civilian unit to participate in the first wave of landings at Normandy Beach. As the landing craft approached Vierville, and the ramps of Company A’s landing crafts were dropped, the men quickly poured onto the beach. “There were no shell holes for cover at Dog Green. Company A had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded…. It had become a struggle for survival and rescue. The men in the water pushed wounded men ahead of them, and those who had reached the sands crawled back into the water pulling others to land to save them from drowning, in many cases to see the rescued men wounded again or to be hit themselves. Within twenty minutes of striking the beach A Company had ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party bent on survival and the saving of lives.”

Normandy cemetery

Many a Virginian is Buried at the American Cemetery at Normandy France

The companies of the 116th that came ashore just east of the Vierville draw suffered the worst, losing an estimated 65 percent of its strength within 10 minutes. Company A was virtually wiped out by heavy German fire and by the end of the day, only 18 of 230 members of the company had avoided injury. This company which had originated from Bedford, Virginia had the highest proportionate D-Day losses of any community in the nation. Out of respect to that community, the National D-Day Memorial was located in Bedford, Virginia to honor their loss. In spite of their casualties they would continue with the courage and sacrifice so typical of them for the remainder of the War. The regiment suffered casualties of 1,298 killed, 4,769 wounded, and 594 missing for a total of 7,113 during the war.

normandy memorial

D-Day National Monument in Bedford, Virginia

The Old Stonewall Brigade is active still, currently assigned to the 29th Infantry Division, as part of the Virginia Army National Guard. It is now designated as the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. On its battle flag are ribbons they so proudly earned indicating the many battles they have fought in, including those of the American Civil War.

As we approach Memorial Day, which coincides with Confederate Memorial Day here in Virginia, it is important that we remember all those who gave their allegiance to their state, and to their nation to fight in this country’s wars. As such, it is essential we remember all veterans, even those we may have once fought against during the American Civil War. We are, after all, one nation, now indivisible. It is important we remember our veterans on this and all Memorial Day weekends; no matter the war.

I will be taking a short summer break in order to get the text of a new book ready for publishing. I will see you again in August. Thanks very much for following this blog.


Robertson, Jr, James I. The Stonewall Brigade. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, La. 1977. 

A Civil War Love Story

The 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment was mustered into service on April 9, 1861, just days before the commencement of the Civil War. With Joseph Kershaw serving as its first commander, the regiment spent their first few moments of service on Morris Island helping to build fortifications in the shadow of Fort Sumter. With the coming of the war, however, the unit headed north to fight with the Army of Northern Virginia in nearly all of its battles, from First Manassas through the Siege of Petersburg.

In August of 1864, though, the 2nd South Carolina, as part of General Kershaw’s Division, was sent north with General George Anderson’s command to reinforce Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley. The change of venue would certainly have been a reprieve from the perils of trench warfare. The regiment’s visit would be brief; but they would fight in several skirmishes before their return to General Lee’s Army on September 13.

Following Early’s defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester, however, General Anderson’s command was ordered back to the Shenandoah Valley. They would reach the valley on September 26th, by way of Swift Run Gap. The 2nd South Carolina Infantry would arrive in time to witness “the burning” of the valley by General Philip Sheridan’s army. Their return would also coincide with the last great battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley.

On October 7, Brigadier General James Connor was given command of the 2nd South Carolina’s brigade. The unit was still part of Kershaw’s Division. The troop would fight in a costly skirmish on October 13, at Hupp’s Hill just north of Strasburg. The South Carolinians would ultimately force two of General Thoburn’s brigades back to their camps at Cedar Creek. General Connor would be struck in the leg by a shell fragment, which would put him out of action for months. Major James Goggin would takeover  command of the brigade.

Based on intelligence gained at Hupp’s Hill, and on suggestions made by his subordinates, General Early now decided on a plan to attack General Sheridan’s legions in their camps at Cedar Creek. The attack would require exact timing on the part of multiple commands. Kershaw’s Division would play a critical role in its success, or in its failure.

Just before midnight Kershaw began his movement toward Bowman’s Mill Ford on Cedar Creek. When they splashed across the stream at 4:00 AM the area was dark and cloaked in a dense fog. The Carolinians pushed up the hill past the Hite farm to the edge of Thoburn’s defensive works. Here they lingered, awaiting their call to action.

About 5:30 Colonel James Simms’ Georgia Brigade led off the attack “screaming the rebel yell.” The Federals put up negligible resistance but the shock of the attack was overwhelming. The 2nd South Carolina collided directly with the 11th West Virginia and many prisoners were scooped up. Thoburn’s men were quickly routed.

Unfortunately, the attack’s “momentum slackened.” Captain David Dickert, the veteran who authored the history of the South Carolina Brigade, remembered: “Our ranks soon became almost as much disorganized as those of the enemy.” The attackers were quickly overcome by hunger and many of them stopped to “plunder the Union camps.”

In the midst of their success the regiment suffered many casualties. Major Benjamin Clyburn, who currently commanded the 2nd South Carolina, was struck by a bullet in the left thigh. The impact fractured Clyburn’s femur and forced him to relinquish command. There is no written record of who took control of the regiment in his place.

Though brigade commander, Major Goggin, lost control of a significant number of his men, most pushed on into the flank of Emery’s XIX Corps. At this same time General John Gordon’s men began their attack from the east, having crossed the Shenandoah River during the overnight. Added to this was the weight of Gabriel Wharton’s Division, the addition of which would soon cause the collapse of the XIX Corps’ defenses.

Cedar Creek afternoon1

Map Showing the Confederate Assault at Cedar Creek

The 2nd South Carolina continued to push north along the “abandoned Federal trenches toward Meadow Brook.” “Riding the high tide of surprise and good fortune, the Confederates had pulled off the difficult task of merging converging columns.” With all their forces now concentrated all the confederates had to do was to continue their thrust. Triumph was within their grasp.

Among the regiments in the XIX Corps that were in danger of being routed by Kershaw’s Division was the 29th Maine Infantry. The regiment was part of Edwin Davis’ Brigade in McMillan’s Division of the XIX Corps. Adjutant John Gould recalled: “Mingled with the jargon of drums and bugles, was the rattling of the skirmishers of our brigade and the VI Corps.” “There was no mistaking these sounds, they meant a battle.”

With the sudden onrush of rebel troops, the campgrounds of the VIII and XIX Corps, according to John Gould, “were soon in possession of the enemy, excepting the little corner where our 1st Brigade had been stationed, and soon we were moving over into the fog and smoke to defend this remote position.” Though ordered by General Dwight to return to their campground, disobeying the order saved the regiment from “utter annihilation.”

In due time the 29th Maine Infantry realized that there were squads of the enemy all around them. Major Nye, who commanded the regiment, ordered the men to stand and fire. “It was a fine volley, and as few of you noticed its effects from where you stood, I am happy to tell you that we who were with Col. Davis in another part of the field could see the rebels scampering back before it at a pleasing pace.” The regiment fired “four or five rounds, and then Major Nye received the order to fall back.” It is very possible the 2nd South Carolina had, in part at least, been a target of this Maine regiment.

Soon a second order came to Major Nye ordering him to retreat. The regiment was “in a rather critical position.” Nye yelled: “By the right of companies to the rear.” “We ran as fast as legs could carry us down the hill to the west and up the next slope until we had gone perhaps 500 yards.” Nye ordered a halt and reformed the line. Here a few more rounds were discharged at the rebels now positioning themselves on Stoney Hill.

As the 2nd South Carolina reached Stoney Hill they soon came under fire from men “posted on bluffs across the valley of Meadow Brook to the north.” In all likelihood the fire referred to originated from the 29th Maine, though with the fog and smoke nobody can be certain. Kershaw’s men crossed the brook and “pivoted to face north.”

Cedar creek hotchkiss

Advance of the 2nd South Carolina Shown in Far Left Movement Trace

Meanwhile the 29th Maine retreated to an area know as the Peach Orchard. “It was a broad, open field of red earth, which the 6th Corps boys had robbed and tramped over for a week until it was almost as smooth as a road, and absolutely shelterless.” From here the Maine boys “fired five-ten-fifteen rounds” and still no order came for them to retire to a more protected spot.

Major Nye, who commanded the 29th, was soon struck by a bullet to his teeth and thrown from his horse. Command of the regiment fell upon Captain Whitmarsh. The soldiers began to notice “their little pile of cartridges grow smaller.” Still, “no order to retire, but time was needed in the rear and so we suffered still to battle on.”

When orders finally came from corps command to withdraw, the 29th Maine retreated with the remnants of their brigade to General Emory’s line of defense. Kershaw’s Division, in company with the 2nd South Carolina, continued their pursuit though not as aggressively as before. Gould noted: “The rebel infantry did not advance far after we retreated from the peach orchard.” Soon orders arrived and once again the regiments retreated to the rear. It was about 10 AM.

On the east side of the battlefield General Early launched his assault against Getty on Cemetery Hill. The fighting was severe but Early was unable to dislodge Union forces there. Though the fighting went on for more than an hour nobody was able to declare victory. By 10 AM the fighting slowed and the two armies entered into the period that would be known as “the fatal halt.”

Meanwhile, General Sheridan had rejoined his army. Sheridan had ridden his horse from Winchester south to the sound of the guns. Soon word came down the line: “Sheridan has arrived, and he says that we’ve got to go back to our camps.” Little by little he began to rally his men, ordering them to form a line about a mile northwest of Middletown. It was his intention to coordinate a counterattack with the patched-up remnants of the VI and XIX Corps. He intended to use his cavalry to swoop around both flanks in an attempt to trap the retreating rebels.

“Gen. Dwight sent orders for us to keep together – we understood that he meant for us to run for the men ahead! And didn’t we run? It was down hill.” “Of all the flying and panic on our side in the morning, there was nothing that we saw like this flight of the rebels from the left and center of their army.”

Cedar Creek afternoon

Map Depicting General Sheridan’s Counterattack.

The force of the Union counterattack was undeniable. The Confederate line quickly started to dissolve. Gordon’s brigades on the left of the line “began to crumble like dominos.” The 2nd South Carolina, with its brigade, retreated about a half mile and formed line along the Old Forge Road. Ramseur’s Division with Humphreys’ Brigade joined with them. Here they held up the Federal attack for more than thirty minutes.

Captain Lorenzo Dow Stacy, a member of the 29th Maine, soon found himself in the forefront of Sheridan’s counterattack. Stacy was on horseback encouraging the men of Company B forward. According to Captain Stacy: “Soon after our several charges upon the rebel line in our front, and upon their flanking party on our right, I discovered a rebel making his way across the field at our right, and towards the Creek, with what I took to be a flag under his arm.” “He was accompanied by two or three stragglers, who had thrown away their arms, and were making the best time possible to the rear. I put spurs to my horse and gave chase…”

Lorenzo Stacy

Captain Lorenzo D. Stacy (Nicholas Picerno Collection)

Colonel George Love of the 116th New York Infantry spotted the retreating Confederates at about the same time as Stacy. According to Captain Stacy: “Love followed me and we both made for the flag the best we could. I was a little ahead, and first seized the flag and wretched it from the firm grasp of the rebel. Just at this moment Col. Love came up, dismounted, and seized hold of the flag, and ordered me to let him have it, which I refused to do until he told me that I should have it again. He took the flag, and we separated, and it was half an hour or more before I saw him again and he then gave me the flag, and I carried it fastened upon my saddle the remainder of the day.”

George Love

Colonel George Love (Nicholas Picerno Collection)

The outcome of the battle was quickly sealed and the army was soon in possession of their old campgrounds.  Stacy noted: “After our return to ‘the old camp ground’, about dark that evening, we dismounted and sat down to rest; but in a few moments orders came for our brigade to move out to the front and form a picket-line across the valley. On looking for my horse which had been left standing near by, he could not be found. Horse, flag and all had gone together.”

It would take some time for Captain Stacy to recover his possessions. “Some three days afterwards, by diligent search, I found the flag in the possession of a colonel in Gen. Wheaton’s division, 6th Corps, and I recovered it and turned it over to Col. Davis, then in command of the 1st brigade 19th corps…”

Colonel George Love of the 116th, along with General William Dwight had, just prior to the battle, been released from arrest by General Sheridan, presumably for drinking. Love’s seizure of the flag, however brief, was certainly performed for some purpose. My guess; he probably brought it to his brigade or division commander, or even General Sheridan, perhaps as recompense for past misdeeds.

Regardless, Colonel Love was covered in glory for the capture of the flag. He was sent to Washington by General Sheridan, to present to the war department various flags captured from the rebels during this battle. On March 7, 1865, George Love would be breveted to the rank of Brigadier General in recognition of his actions by Abraham Lincoln. Additionally, he would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the capture of the 2nd South Carolina’s flag at Cedar Creek. Lorenzo Stacy would not even receive an honorable mention.

Love joined the regular army in 1867 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 11th United States Infantry. He retired as a first lieutenant in 1883. Not much is known of his life after his retirement but we know he died of natural causes in 1887 at the age of fifty-six. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York just a few feet from the spot President Millard Filmore is interred. His stone proudly touts the distinction of winning the Medal of Honor.

George Love Stone

Brigadier General George Love’s Final Resting Spot in Buffalo, New York

Ironically, Captain Lorenzo Stacy was mustered out of service at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on June 21, 1868. At the close of the war he “entered into mercantile life, soon after drifting into a civil position.” He served for four years as deputy sheriff of Oxford County in Maine. He would also be elected as its sheriff, serving for eight years. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Kezar Falls, Maine. His stone shows the consequences of age, weathering, and neglect. There is no mention of the capture of a rebel flag.

Lorenzo Stacy stone

Captain Lorenzo Stacy Memorial at Riverside Cemetery in Kezar Falls Maine

In Joshua Chamberlain’s 1889 Gettysburg speech he declared: “In great deeds something abides. On Great fields something stays.” Stacy went home at the end of the war, and never received credit for his accomplishment on the battlefield. John Gould penned in the regimental history: “It is said Stacy stayed at home and searched in his dictionary for the meaning of such words as Hero, Valor, Fearless and Illustrious, and wondered how any of these words could be defined as the running down of three or four unarmed cripples.” Stacy served his country and lived his life with integrity, and honor. He did not model his life on false claims. That distinction might be difficult for all who served to assert.


Many thanks to my friend Nick Picerno for all of his help, and especially for the photographs.

Gould, John M. The Civil War Journals of John Mead Gould 1861 to 1865. Butternut and Blue. Baltimore, Md. 1997.

Gould, John M. History of the First – Tenth – Twenty-Ninth Maine Regiment. Higginson Book Company. Salem, Ma. 1871.

Wyckoff, Mac. A History of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry: 1861-1865. Sergeant Kirkland’s Museum and Historical Society, Inc. Fredericksburg, Va. 1994. Nicholas Picerno Collection.

Tomb of the Known, and Unknown

In his official report on the Battle of Front Royal, which took place on May 23, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson recounted the events of that day. “About 2 PM the enemy’s pickets were driven in by our advance, which was ordered to follow rapidly. The First Maryland Regiment, supported by Wheat’s battalion of Louisiana Volunteers, and the remainder of Taylor’s brigade, acting as a reserve, pushed forward in gallant style, charging the Federals, who made a spirited resistance, driving them through the town and taking some prisoners.”

Colonel John R. Kenly, of the 1st Maryland Union, commanded Front Royal’s meager defense force. Attending him were nearly a thousand infantrymen, a small cavalry detachment, and a two-gun section of rifled artillery. With this small force he had been tasked with defending General Nathaniel Banks’ left flank, the town of Front Royal, the Manassas Gap Railroad, and the bridges over the Shenandoah River. It was a tall order for so small a band of combatants.

General Jackson’s army actually outnumbered Kenly’s by nearly fifteen to one. Unfortunately, though, when the battle began the majority of his forces was strung out along narrow, winding roads for more than ten miles. The main body of Jackson’s legion would approach Front Royal from the south along the very constricted Gooney Manor Road. As a result, Jackson was forced to add weight to his attack, piecemeal, as regiments materialized. Stapleton Crutchfield’s role in the success of Jackson’s attack would be critical.

Stapleton Crutchfield was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on June 21, 1835. He had attended Virginia Military Institute at Lexington where he studied under Thomas Jackson. Graduating in 1855, Crutchfield stayed on at VMI as an instructor of mathematics and tactics and early in the war served as interim superintendent. It was here that Jackson and Crutchfield had cemented their friendship. On April 21, 1862, Stapleton was asked to serve on Stonewall Jackson’s staff as chief of artillery.

As artillery chief, Colonel Crutchfield had watched as the 1st Maryland Infantry, Southern, began pushing its way through the streets of Front Royal. Union forces had fallen back quickly to the high ground north of town along Richardson’s Hill. Crutchfield knew he had to bring his artillery to bear quickly and searched to find an elevated position from which to provide support. It did not take him long to select Prospect Hill.


Stapleton Crutchfield

Singling out one of General Richard Ewell’s batteries, Crutchfield ordered it to follow him to the top of Prospect Hill. On arrival, however, he discovered the battery he had selected was not adequate for the job. Unfortunately, each of the guns lacked the range to reach the Union artillery position on Richardson’s Hill, which was more than a mile and a half away. Crutchfield noted in his official report: “It so happened that the first of our batteries which reported to me consisted of smooth-bore 6 pounder and 12-pounder howitzers, and had therefore to be ordered aside.”

Crutchfield needed rifled guns to reach a target at this range. The problem was he had no idea where to find them. Colonel Crutchfield had known all morning that Ewell’s Division was going to lead the attack and yet he made no attempt to find out what type of guns he had at his disposal. One might ask what he was doing during that five-hour delay instigated by General Jackson while he waited for the 1st Maryland Infantry, Southern, to march from the rear of the army to the front so they could lead the attack on Front Royal?

Colonel Crutchfield “at once sent back to order up all the batteries of Major-General Ewell’s division, which was in front, while I proceeded in person to reconnoiter the ground to the left of the enemy’s position, with a view to planting our own guns. The division of Major-General Ewell had only joined us a day or so previous, and I was, therefore, unfamiliar with the composition of his batteries, which I afterward found to contain but three rifled guns in all. Guns of this kind were necessary, on account of the nature of the approaches to the enemy’s position, and also because their guns were found to be rifled.”

Front royal artillery

Map of the Battle of Front Royal Showing the First and Second Artillery Positions

This lack of initiative by Crutchfield on researching the tools available to him would have a major impact on the fighting. “The next battery which came up, that of Captain Courtney, contained but one rifled gun, which was put in position, under charge of Lieutenant Latimer, and exchanged shots with the enemy, though it was, of course, unequal to the task of silencing their guns.” General Jackson himself finally ordered “up every rifled gun and every brigade of the army.”

Crutchfield’s selection of favorable ground for the positioning of artillery proved to be deficient as well. Target distance, even with descending fire, was just too extreme. Lieutenant Samuel J. Simpson, a native of Front Royal, soon signaled Crutchfield that he knew a more favorable position much closer to their target. “Simpson was familiar with a path, concealed by woods, that would lead them around the western end of town to an elevation much closer to Federal lines.” The ridge to which he directed the Confederate artillery was the high ground upon which Randolph Macon Academy currently stands. By 3:30 in the afternoon a section of Confederate rifled cannons was finally positioned and ready for use.

Colonel Crutchfield described the positioning of these guns in his report. “After a short time, Captain Brockenbrough’s battery came up, and two of his guns having been planted and opened on the enemy, a brisk cannonade of some ten or fifteen minutes was kept up, with no injury to ourselves and no apparent damage to the enemy. At the end of this time the opposing battery drew off and the enemy began his retreat.” Southern artillery had finally pulled its weight.

“Both of the guns of the enemy, with their two caissons, were captured by our cavalry together with seven battery horses and three sets of artillery harness. The harness was turned over to Captain Cutshaw. One gun and caisson were given to Captain Poague in lieu of a 4-pounder rifled gun belonging to his battery, and the remaining gun and caisson to Captain Brockenbrough, to replace one of his Blakeley 12-pounder guns, which had an assembling-bolt in the cheek broken by the strain on its carriage during the firing. Both the captured pieces were 10-pounder Parrott rifles.”

Opinions of Crutchfield’s performance, both on this battlefield as well as many others, varied. Lieutenant Campbell Brown, who was an aid to General Richard Ewell, thought him “competent but lazy”. A recent writer has opined that “Jackson tolerated Crutchfield’s tendency to sleep late because of his abilities.” Crutchfield’s “abilities” were not always evident, however, and were certainly lacking during the Battle of Front Royal.

It was fortunate for General Jackson that his mounted troops were equal to the task of tackling the 1st Maryland Infantry. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy, commanding four companies of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, would charge Kenly while he was in process of retreating. Kenly’s command would be decimated with nearly all of his men being either killed, wounded, or captured. In total six hundred and ninety-one of his men were apprehended.

Front Royal 2

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy’s Attack on Kenly at Fairview Plantation.

At Midnight on the 23rd Captain Thomas Saville of Company B, 1st Maryland Infantry, reported to General Banks that “Colonel Kenly is killed. Lieutenant-Colonel, adjutant, and all the rest of commanding officers First Maryland Regiment taken prisoners. Regiment cut to pieces and prisoners.”

Most of what Saville reported was true. Colonel Kenly was critically injured. Reports of his death, however, were incorrect. John Reese Kenly would be captured by his attackers, but would survive his injuries. Following his exchange and subsequent recovery, he would rejoin the army and be promoted to Brigadier General.

Prospect Hill Cemetery

The Soldier’s Circle at Prospect Hill

Though there were no known Confederate casualties on Prospect Hill, the site has always been considered hallowed ground. On November 7, 1868 the Ladies’ Warren Memorial Association was chartered. It would be their mission to collect the remains of Confederate dead that had been buried in various locations throughout Warren County. The ladies would then rebury these soldiers in a circular lot atop Prospect Hill which would soon be known as the “Soldier’s Circle.” The chore of finding and transporting the bodies required a great deal of labor and expense, and money was especially difficult to acquire during the post war era in the Shenandoah Valley.

The remains of two hundred and seventy-six soldiers, representing every state in the Confederacy, were buried on the uppermost crest of the hill. Ninety soldiers were identified and placed in separate graves. Each of these graves was bedecked with a marble headstone in the “Soldier’s Circle.” The remains of one hundred and eighty-six unknown soldiers were interred in a common grave in the center of the ring. On Aug. 24, 1882, fourteen years after the effort was begun, an eighteen-foot-high monument was erected over them.

These soldiers here lie in peace, both known and unknown, upon the edges of a battlefield once part of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. As the “known” are remembered so are they all. A memorial service is held on May 23rd of each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Front Royal, to honor the sacrifice of these soldiers.

Prospect Hill from Satelite

Satellite view of Prospect Hill

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PART I.-Reports, ETC.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PART III.-CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Campaigns and Commanders Series). University of Oklahoma Press.

Banks’ Fort or Folly

By early April of 1862, shortly after the First Battle of Kernstown, General Nathaniel Banks was finally of the opinion that his army was ready to go on the offensive against his opponent, Stonewall Jackson. Banks was a very cautious man, a lot like his boss General George McClellan. During this interim period supplies had been scarce and his men had been forced to live on half rations. Many of his soldiers had not even been supplied with proper shoes. Conditions had steadily improved, however, and the Union commander finally felt he was ready to move his twenty-thousand-man army up the Shenandoah Valley in pursuit of his foe.

Nathaniel Banks

Major General Nathaniel Banks

In his elevated state of cautiousness General Banks continued to stress over the idea of being able to make a strong defense if necessitated by circumstance. The further Banks advanced into the Shenandoah Valley the more he pondered the idea of having a strong fallback position should his offensive fail. Fortunate or not, there were other people on his staff who were feeding his caution.

While Banks was headquartered at the Hupp House in Strasburg, Captain Edward B. Hunt, who was an engineer in Banks command, informed Banks that it was his “opinion that a strong defense would be appropriate as well.” Hunt explained that he had examined maps of the Shenandoah Valley and that “only two positions need to be occupied by defenses, viz, the hill north of Strasburg and the most eligible point northwest of Front Royal.” These were just the things the general wanted to hear.

Hunt went further to state: “The hill north of Strasburg has so effective a command over the roads, the railroad, and town, and would afford so much security to a depot of supplies, &c., at Strasburg, that I have staked out the lines of a field fort on it, and have indicated to Captain Mason and to Mr. Douglass (who is engaged to report to you for its construction) all the essentials for making it what is needed.” The construction at Strasburg, of what would be known as Banks’ Fort, was soon begun.

Hupp House

The George Hupp House at Strasburg.

A copy of the layout of the fort, and associated defenses, exists and is in safekeeping at the Strasburg Museum at 440 East King Street. The museum does not open for the season until May 1, but is well worth a visit to see these plans, as well as their many other exhibits. In lieu of a copy of the actual plans, the best description of Banks’ Fort comes from the Official Records. “The earthworks rose between a creek and road due north of Strasburg, one thousand feet west of the Valley Pike. Directly across the east side of the pike from Banks Fort were General Banks’s quarters at the George Hupp house.”

The Hupp house had been built about 1755, and was the home of one of the first settlers in the Shenandoah Valley. The limestone structure had been used as a fortress against Indian attacks early on in its history. The one-hundred-year-old house would serve as military headquarters several times during the Civil War housing such leaders as Stonewall Jackson, James Shields, Philip Sheridan, and, of course, Nathaniel Banks. Portions of the original structure still stand today.

It had taken him twenty-five days, but by April 17 General Banks and his army were ready to begin their offensive in earnest. Banks’ army had reached Mount Jackson by seven AM that morning and in a matter of hours, they had captured the town and the bridge over the Shenandoah. Soon his troops had crossed the river and were formed into line, preparing to assault General Jackson’s Army who were entrenched along Rude’s Hill. About noon he advanced his men only to find that Jackson had abandoned the position without a fight.

Banks Advance

Banks Advance to Mount Jackson Through April 17, 1862.

General Banks continued his slow advance to Harrisonburg while Jackson withdrew his army south and then east. Stonewall crossed the South Fork of the Shenandoah along the bridge at Conrad’s Store and then continued on to Swift Run Gap. Here he dug in. With his back to the pass over the mountain, he was able to maintain a strong defensive position while at the same time protecting an emergency escape route.

Banks would remain at New Market for five days. By the 19th he had sent a notification to Secretary Stanton stating “Jackson had left the valley.” He reported he had left “by way of the mountain, from Harrisonburg toward Stanardsville and Orange Court-house, and Gordonsville” all of which was confirmed by his scouts and prisoners.

Banks at Harrisonburg

Map Showing Banks and Jackson’s Positions on April 23, 1862.

The general it seemed had been deceived. None of what Banks was describing was true. It was Jackson’s intent to remain at Conrad’s Store and thereby threaten Banks’ left flank. If his army should continue to push up the valley toward Staunton Jackson could easily attack him in the rear. In keeping with his cautious nature, Banks decided holding his current position at Harrisonburg was his best option.

General Banks spent the next several days making himself comfortable at Harrisonburg. On April 27, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent a message to the Major General asserting concern that his army was “pushed too far in advance of your support, so as to receive a surprise or sudden blow.” General Banks advance was at Mount Crawford which was a few miles north of Staunton. At the time of the communication Banks had two brigades posted at Harrisonburg in addition to six hundred cavalry and two artillery batteries.

While Jackson had secured his army across a pass in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Swift Run Gap, General Banks was of the opinion that he was “waiting for reinforcements and planned to make a stand there.” In reality Jackson was devoting his time to resolving disciplinary issues with his cavalry commander, Turner Ashby, and trying to determine what his army should do next. It was always Jackson’s aim to assume the offensive.

On the following day Secretary Stanton transmitted a second message to General Banks. He asked him to “consider whether you are not already making too wide a separation between the body of troops under your immediate command and your supporting force. It is possible that events may make it necessary to transfer the command of General James Shields to the Department of the Rappahannock.” At the time of the communiqué General Shields’ division was located about half way between Harrisonburg and New Market. His division was positioned so as to protect the army’s rear should the Confederates attempt to press through New Market Gap, thereby cutting the Union army’s supply lines and avenue of retreat.

General Banks had posted two infantry regiments and roughly one hundred cavalry along the road to Conrad’s Store to act as scouts. General John Hatch, Banks’ cavalry commander, utilized this force in an attempted reconnaissance in force in that direction on the 27th. This “resulted in obtaining a complete and satisfactory view of the enemy’s position. Two of our own men were wounded by accident, one mortally. Five of the enemy were killed and 5 wounded in the skirmish.”

On the 28th of April Banks notified Stanton that the “enemy is in no condition for offensive movements and nothing can prevent our troops from joining the main body in safety if attacked.” Further, “a negro employed in Jackson’s tent came in this morning, and reports preparation for retreat of Jackson today.” “You need have no apprehensions for our safety.”

In a second message sent that very same day General Banks informed Stanton: “If Jackson retreats from his present position there is no reason for our remaining longer in this valley. If he does not we can compel his retreat or destroy him.” “If no force is in the valley except at Strasburg the enemy will not return. The whole of my command can move from New Market to Madison by the mountain road, which is the best turnpike in Virginia, at three days notice, from which we can occupy Culpeper Courthouse, Orange Courthouse, or Gordonsville, joined by General Abercrombie. The enemy will then be expelled from the whole of this region.”

Early on the morning of the 30th Colonel Turner Ashby, himself, led an advance on the Union army at Harrisonburg. Ashby’s movement included “infantry, cavalry, and artillery.” From an observation post high above the Shenandoah Valley on Massanutten Mountain Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s famed map maker, watched Ashby’s advance and noted: “We saw plainly the enemy’s encampments around and below Harrisonburg but no movement was made to meet our advance.”

On the same day as Ashby’s reconnaissance Banks expressed the opinion, based on consultation with his officers, that “there is nothing more to be done by us in the valley. Nothing this side of Strasburg requires our presence. Fortifications, now finished, were planned by Captain John Hunt to protect our lines below with a small force.” The movement there “will enable you to concentrate our forces there whenever you desire.” “I am now satisfied that it is the most safe and effective disposition possible for our corps.” Banks’ Fort at Strasburg had been completed.

Nathaniel Banks was also certain the situation in Jackson’s army was extremely desperate. He told Stanton that rebel forces at Gordonsville “were far less than represented in newspapers – not more than 20,000 at outside. Jackson’s army reduced, demoralized, on half rations. They are all concentrating for Richmond.” This intelligence was also incorrect and, as such, would have a major impact on Jackson’s Valley Campaign and upon the Union Army itself.

As the northern General was penning this dispatch, however, General Jackson’s army had been tasked with a mission and could be found slogging through the mud on their way to Port Republic. Their final destination, however, was known to only one man, and that was Stonewall Jackson himself. Jedediah Hotchkiss recorded in his diary that the “rain was falling in torrents and the mud was very deep.” “Many of the army wagons, following them, mired in the mud and quicksands.” There was nothing that could deter Jackson when he had decided on a course of action, not even bottomless roads of mud.

General Banks opinions apparently carried some weight. On May 1, he received instructions, communicated through Edwin Stanton, that “the president directs that you fall back with the force under your immediate command to Strasburg, or such other point near there as will be convenient for supplies and enable you to hold the passage along the valley of the Shenandoah. General Shields will receive orders within a day or two to pass with his division into the Department of the Rappahannock.”

By May 4, Banks had been made aware that General Jackson was moving his army in the direction of Port Republic. He was a full four days late in this discovery though. They believed his destination to be either Staunton or Waynesboro. Banks assumed if Jackson was headed to Staunton then his plan was to join General Edward Johnson and attack Milroy. In this assumption he was exactly correct. One is left to wonder, however, why he did not take the opportunity to attack his outnumbered opponent.

The following day Banks began to have second thoughts about dividing his army. He wrote: “I do not think it possible to divide our force at this time with safety. The enemy is largely re-enforced by Ewell’s division. He has three brigades of infantry and one of cavalry, estimated at 12,700. It is probably less, but still a very material increase. He is near the bridge; Jackson 5 miles above, near Port Republic.”

On May 6, General Banks withdrew his army to New Market. Banks had received information that General Ewell was moving his army north on the east side of Massanutten Mountain to attack Columbia Bridge. Banks noted he had taken precautions to prevent that movement.

On the day after Jackson’s victory at McDowell, May 9, General Banks received a reminder from Secretary Stanton that his position at New Market was not compatible with the orders he had received. “New Market seems somewhat distant to fall within the meaning of the order.”

General Banks lingered at New Market for several more days. On May 10, he reported to Secretary Stanton that he was going to remain at New Market until the twelfth. General Shields, who had been ordered to join General McDowell, had requested the army remain united until he was ready to march. Banks did say he would “reach Strasburg Tuesday morning, or immediately if required.” Both of the commanders believed there was safety in numbers.

Union army forces divided on the morning of the twelfth. General Shields’s division departed for Catlett’s Station, while Banks, with the remaining force, departed for Strasburg. By the end of the day Banks had reached Woodstock. At the time he very accurately estimated that Jackson’s army, when combined with General Richard Ewell’s Division, would number about seventeen thousand combatants. He was wrong, though, in reporting that Jackson was at Stanton. Jackson was actually at McDowell, having called off his pursuit of General Milroy’s forces following his victory there.

By nine P.M. on May 13, Banks was convinced Jackson was at Harrisonburg. Jackson would not actually reach that location until six days later. The intelligence Banks was in receipt of was obviously inaccurate. Still, the general would reach Strasburg on this very morning and slide into his prepared defensive position. Banks had left his rear guard at Woodstock to watch for the anticipated advance of Jackson’s Army.

Banks Fort Map

Map showing Position of Banks’ Fort at Strasburg.

Confederate forces began to press on the Federal Army’s rear almost immediately. Turner Ashby reported on May 16 that he had three companies below Mount Jackson. In a communication written that day he “thought it best not to leave this road until I had followed down their column as far as Strasburg, so as to cause them to believe you were behind them upon this road.” This would give General Banks the impression that Jackson intended to attack Strasburg directly along the Valley Pike. In actuality no firm decision had been made as to when or where he would attack.

By the 16th Jackson had communicated with Ewell. “It may be necessary for me to follow you through Luray and cross the Shenandoah at Front Royal, but this cannot be determined upon until we know what the enemy is doing. See whether you can get enough boats, &c., to build a bridge at Front Royal.” In Jackson’s characteristically secretive way, he told Ewell; “Do not breathe this plan to any one.”

Banks fort market

Marker at Strasburg Dedicated to Banks Fort.

On May 20th General John Freemont, whose army was located in the mountains west of the valley, notified Banks that Jackson had passed the “Shenandoah Mountain and is reported going toward your front.” In reality Jackson had reached Tenth Legion, south of New Market on the Valley Pike. He was currently in the process of combining two Rebel armies into one. His objective was not any particular town, but the destruction of Banks’s Army.

General Joseph Johnson notified General Ewell that “if Banks is fortifying near Strasburg the attack would be too hazardous. In such an event we must leave him in his works. General Jackson can observe him and you come eastward.” In fact, General Banks was spending his time at Strasburg improving his defenses. The cavalry activity in his front gave every indication that his position would soon be directly challenged. Very little thought was given to his other vulnerabilities.

Front Royal Battle


Situation on May 22, as Jackson was Poised to Attack Front Royal.

On May 22nd General Banks once again reported that he was aware that Jackson’s army numbered about sixteen thousand men. Banks himself had five thousand infantrymen, sixteen hundred horse soldiers, and sixteen cannons. Banks complained, “We are compelled to defend at two points, both equally accessible to the enemy.” One thousand of his men were at Front Royal, the first of the defense points, along with a few cavalry.  A few of his infantry battalions were scattered along the railroad between Front Royal and Strasburg. The bulk of his forces, however, were dug in at Banks Fort.

On the twenty-second, Banks informed Secretary Stanton he believed Jackson was closing in on him and was within twenty-five miles at New Market. He also maintained that General Ewell, however, was still at Swift Run Gap, nearly sixty miles from his Front Royal garrison. Banks would soon learn how erroneous his intelligence was.

Banks Fort.png

Post War Photo of Banks Fort

The daytime hours of May 23rd created a great deal of uncertainty in the Union commander’s mind. As early as 4:00 PM a rider from the 5th New York Cavalry had notified Banks at Strasburg of the ongoing action at Front Royal. At first Banks believed that the fighting there was a feint. He believed the main attack was yet to befall him at Strasburg.

By early evening, though, Banks had received information demonstrating that Colonel Kenly’s command at Front Royal had been destroyed. Indications were that General Jackson’s whole command had compromised his left flank. Banks had been outgeneraled and outflanked. He was left with no choice but to order a retreat to Winchester.

Banks’ retreat along the Valley Pike would be seriously contested by Jackson’s Army on May 24. Early on the morning of the 25th, though, following a brief fight on the outskirts of the town, the contest would go badly for the Union army. Union forces were soon retreating through the streets of Winchester and north along the Valley Pike toward Martinsburg. His fight at the First Battle of Winchester, and subsequent retreat, would cost General Banks more than one third of his command.

Banks had inhabited his fort for just ten days. Jackson’s attack on Front Royal had forced him to abandon Strasburg, and his garrison, without a fight. Though the defensive works there would be manned periodically by both Union and Confederate troops during the war, the stronghold would never witness any serious combat. One hundred and fifty-six plus years later close examination of the hill, however, still shows evidence of its construction. It must be stated though, its remains are a monument to General Nathaniel Banks’ caution and Stonewall Jackson’s superior tactics and aggression.

Modern Banks Fort

Current Photo Showing Hill Where Banks’ Fort was Positioned.




Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Campaigns and Commanders Series) (p. 22). University of Oklahoma Press.


Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Southern Methodist University Press. Dallas, Texas. 1988.


Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PARIT III.-CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Two Weeks in the Valley

For a state that was so geographically isolated from the fields of battle, Maine always seemed to have had a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the American Civil War. When most people think of Maine and the Civil War, however, they usually think of Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and Little Round Top. Most do not appreciate that Maine supplied more than just one infantry regiment, and a serving Vice-President, Hannibal Hamlin. The state actually fielded thirty-one infantry units, as well as two cavalry regiments, one heavy artillery unit, seven artillery batteries, and, along the way, achieved the highest rate of volunteerism of any Northern state.

In spite this, seldom do you see the terms Civil War, Shenandoah Valley, and Maine written in the same sentence. Yet, multiple Maine regiments would fight up and down the Shenandoah Valley in varying capacities throughout the war. Most of these would sacrifice their lives in battle, some would perform guard functions, and some would contribute by participating in regional occupation assignments. A splendid example of the latter is the experience of the 10th Maine Infantry during the month of May, 1862.

The 10th Maine was actually a reincarnation of a three-month regiment which had originally been designated as the 1st Maine Infantry. The First Maine had been mustered into Federal service on May 3, 1861. Though the unit was a three-month regiment, the contingent was mostly composed of men who had committed to a two-year enlistment. Most were furloughed at the end of their term of duty, but some two hundred of them chose to remain in service and became the backbone of a new regiment, the 10th Maine Volunteer Infantry. That unit would be mustered into service on October 1, 1861.

Early on in its service this new Maine regiment was dispatched to Harper’s Ferry. Most of its companies were dispersed along the Baltimore and Ohio with orders to “guard the railway.” The regiment would follow orders but with “the intense disgust of every man, from Col. Beal down to the cooks.” Having never experienced combat the men yearned to prove themselves in battle. Guard duty was not satisfy that yearning.

The regiment would remain at their posts until May 9, 1862, when four of their companies were ordered to Winchester, Virginia, to occupy the town. Second Lieutenant John Gould, who would later write the history of the 10th Maine and its associated regiments, noted on that same day that Lieutenant-Colonel James S. Fillebrown had taken under his charge four companies, C, E, G, and I, had been sent to Winchester by train to occupy the town. The commander of the regiment, Colonel George Beal, would follow along a short time later.

Mary Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee

On the very day the 10th Maine arrived in Winchester, Mary Greenhow Lee, a Winchester civilian and rebel zealot, wrote in her diary: “People here are so gloomy now; they think Richmond will be given up, & consequently we are subjugated; but I do not think they will go to Richmond now, any sooner than after the battle of Manassas issue; it would only delay it. A Maine Regiment arrived today, & McDowell & his command are to join Shields tomorrow. These Maine wretches say, they are going to make the Secession women hold their tongues, & that they will set the town to rights.”


Lieutenant-Colonel James S. Fillebrown (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

On May 10, Mary Greenhow Lee went about doing what she had done every day for the last several weeks. Early that morning she had marched off to the jail to provide the Confederate prisoners there with “tea and supplies.” “The whole Maine Regt. was drilling before Mr. Conrad’s door, but we did not let them turn us one inch out of our way.” “Every one says the ‘Maine’ is a splendid Regt., but I cannot see anything to be admired about the Yankees, in any form, but their music; that is not part of them; neither the airs nor the musicians, generally, belong to that contemptable race, nor do they belong to the fighting ranks.” “The Yankee’s here are mad if any one tells them we are going to have a very hot summer; they are evidently afraid of the climate.”

On the day after their arrival the Maine men began to feel the wrath of the town’s inhabitants as they went about performing their new mission. Gould wrote: “We found ourselves in another atmosphere here in Winchester: we had already seen rebel women, but in all our travels we never saw any so bitter as those of Winchester. They were untiring in their efforts to show how they hated us.”


Colonel George L. Beal (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

On May 11, Mary Greenhow Lee writes that a Mr. Miller reported “Banks Head Quarters would be at Strasburgh to-day, and the hope was, Jackson, would drive the Yankee’s out of the Valley, in ten days. Laura Lee, who was also a strong Winchester secessionist, noted in her diary that same date how dreadful it is “to hear the Yankees shouting and exulting over their victories. There is a new Commandant here, a Col. From Maine and his regiment. The new provost is odious and audacious.” “He was not placed here to protect rebel women and children.”

10th Maine Map

Position of the 10th Maine Relative to General Nathaniel Banks Army.

The man assigned the position of Provost Martial for Winchester was Lieutenant-Colonel James S. Fillebrown. Provost marshals were the Union Army’s military police. “They hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using Government transportation; and investigated the theft of Government property.” Provost martials were the most prominent specimens of Northern occupation and, as a result, were the ones most often resented and detested.

When members of the 10th Maine sat upon residential “door-steps a moment, the prominent women of Winchester would send out their servants to wash up the spot that was supposed to be made filthy by our presence.” One lady “delighted to open her windows and play Dixie on her piano every time the regiment passed that way.” “They would not walk under the stars and stripes nor suffer their dresses to brush our clothes never so lightly, and rarely would they pass by us without scowling.”

Mary Greenhow Lee went on to complain on May 13, that “our oppressors are drawing in the reins; they have commenced arresting women for talking; A Mrs. John Campbell was arrested today.” She was eventually able to “talk the Provost down so completely…and in self defense, he let her go.” “The Provost Marshall, makes himself more odious every day; Mrs. Barton gave him such a scolding to-day, as is not often heard from a lady, & then she went to Col. Beal to complain of him; he refused to give Mrs. Jones a pass to return to Vaucluse, but the Col. was more obliging.”

Laura Lee wrote that same day that “the Maine regiment that is occupying the town now, is much the most obnoxious of any of the Yankees we have had. The Lieut. Col is a perfect brute and insults and browbeats every one who is unfortunate enough to be brought into contact with him. No one can leave the town without a pass, and a pass can only be obtained by the person’s swearing that he or she is a loyal subject of the U. S. No decent person will take such an oath.”

As time passed Provost Martial Fillebrown began to respond to what he considered to be provocations on the part of the civilians. His reaction was especially swift when it came to brazen forms of protest. His attempts at discipline, however, were not always well received. For example Mary Greenhow Lee noted: “The Provost says the ladies shall not wear sunbonnets & aprons on the street, because they only do it, to insult the officers.” “Of course after such an order, they are more universally worn, all my household wear them & I think I shall have to adapt mine.”

On the evening of May 16, a building at the Fair Grounds was set on fire. “In less than an hour, there was another alarm, & on opening the door, the flames were ascending somewhat in the direction of Selma, but it proved to be the Medical College which is burnt to the ground; what is this the beginning of, we cannot tell as we are in the hands of a treacherous foe.” The Winchester Medical College was situated on the corner of Boscawen and Stewart Streets.

Medical College

Winchester Historical Panel Marking the Location of the Medical College

Many of the residents believed the burning of the building was “for the purpose of destroying superfluous Government stores & preparatory to an evacuation.” Union forces explained the reason for the “burning of the college is that a skeleton of Oliver Brown (John’s son) was there, they buried in the yard what they supposed were his bones, but the genuine ones, had been removed by Doctor Hunter Maguire, thus foiling their malicious design.” Winchester resident, John Peyton Clark, would later claim it was Colonel George Beal of 10th Maine that ordered Brown’s remains recovered and the College burned. True or not, there is no mention of this incident in the regimental history of the regiment.

Julia Chase

Sketch of Julia Chase

Not everyone in Winchester, however, was a secessionist. Julia Chase, for example, was a Maine native and a resident of Winchester. She was a Unionist and her husband was the town’s postmaster. They were a perfect example of a Winchester divided. On May 18 she reported she was “taking the fever.” She noted: “Some of the Maine boys have been brought in sick to the Court House Hospital.” She stated that as soon as she was feeling better, she planned on going to the hospital to help there.

By May 21, rumors were rampant in Winchester that Turner Ashby’s pickets were only six miles outside of the city and that Jackson was close behind. Mary Greenhow Lee wrote what she thought might happen “if the Yankees go away & Jackson does not come here. I think of establishing an independent monarchy, & assuming the dictatorship.”

Two days later Mary recounted: “The Yankees are still here & also a thousand rumors about Jackson; one is, that he is certainly at Blues Gap; Banks is certainly in a Trap, between Ewell on one side, & Jackson on the other.” “There is an idea, that Jackson will be here to-morrow night; I am perfectly confident, that our deliverance is near.” Later that night she reported “there is great excitement to-night; wagons are coming in; cavalry dashing by.” “There has been some fight at Front Royal…and they were “in hourly expectation of the arrival of a vanquished army, which may probably be allowed to wreck its vengeance on our town, if they have time.”

On May 23, Unionist Julia Chase reported that Col. Beal of the 10th Maine, said “he will make a stand here but his men number so few he can’t do much.” The following day she complained the Maine men “are not half strict enough.” “Some 50 letters & papers have been taken Miss Belle Boyd, who have been making herself very officious since the Federal troops have been here. She acts as a spy I imagine.”

With Front Royal having fallen on the 23rd, Colonel Beal sent Company C of the Tenth Maine out along the Front Royal Pike the following day to act as skirmishers and to detect enemy movements. Later in the day he reinforced that unit with Company I. The detachment took position about two miles outside of town near the Toll Gate. Here they would participate in a lively skirmish with Rebel Cavalry. Fortunately, there were just six casualties among the Maine men, all in Company C. The small detachment retreated to Winchester that evening.

General Banks spent the daylight and early evening hours of May 24 endeavoring to escape from General Jackson’s Army by retreating north along the Valley Pike. The road was clogged all day by Union troops and retreating supply wagons. In addition to the skirmishing experienced by the 10th Maine, there was sporadic fighting all day along the turnpike between Strasburg and Winchester. By the early morning of May 25, General Banks had placed his men into a defensive posture along the northern bank of Abram’s Creek. Stonewall Jackson positioned his forces opposite him. Everything was staged for the First Battle of Winchester.

first winchester

Map of the Battle of 1st Winchester

About four A.M. hostilities were initiated between the two armies. For some unknown reason the Tenth Maine was never incorporated into the defense of the town. John Meade Gould wrote in the regimental history “whether word was sent or not, Col. Beal never received a single order about going or staying, but at 6:30 A.M. the appearance of crowds of wounded, the wild disorder of stragglers and cavalry, and the host of fugitives of every kind, all convinced him that he must take the responsibility of acting without orders. So we were relieved, as far as was possible, from our duties in town,” and they formed up in the streets of Winchester awaiting orders.


John Mead Gould (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

Cornelia McDonald, a devout rebel sympathizer who lived on the western outskirts of Winchester, had a unique view of the First Battle of Winchester. Cornelia “saw a long line of grey caps above the crest of the hill, then appeared the grey forms that wore them.” She witnessed a “volley of musketry from their assailants that scattered” the Union troops. The blue clad men broke under the weight of the attack and a “stream of humanity that flowed through every street and by way, through gardens and over fences, toward the Martinsburg turnpike, a confused mob of trembling, fainting objects that kept on their mad flight til they were lost in the clouds of dust their hurrying feet had raised.”

The First Battle of Winchester was over shortly after it began. General Richard Taylor’s Louisianan’s fell upon the Union right flank and Banks’s defense quickly collapsed. Soon the Yankees were coursing through town in a state of panic. Mary Greenhow Lee wrote: “The battle has been fought; the victory won; we are free; our precious soldiers are here, in Winchester, with us all the time, morning, noon and night.”

Gould later wrote: “At precisely 7 A.M., Col. Beal ordered us to ‘shoulder arms’ ‘right face’ and ‘forward march’ and there was no delay in the execution of those commands.” All of the other Union troops were caught up in a rout. “A stampede is contagious, and all but irresistible; we had found it hard enough to resist it before, but now it was even more difficult, for before we were standing still.” “All the mob at our side was going Pell mell, and telling us to hurry up, and our natural impulse was also to break and run.” “It was a sad thing to know that our first movement in the presence of the enemy was to retreat without firing a gun or seeing a rebel.”

The rout had begun. Stonewall Jackson’s Army would take Winchester back from “those Maine wretches.” The Unionist Julia Chase wrote: “God grant I may never see the like again. The Confederate Army are in full possession of Winchester again. Gen. Banks has left in great disorder.”

Banks retreat from Winchester was more a stampede than anything else. One union soldier on a similar occasion said if it wasn’t running “it was pretty d–d tall walking.” The 10th Maine would reach the Potomac River opposite Williamsport by nine P.M. that same day. The regiment had “marched thirty-five miles in fourteen hours, including the halts.” “All of us had our feet blistered, some having even more blister than natural skin, but to describe the thousand aches and cramps we felt cannot be done.”

“The escape from Winchester by Banks’s army was a close affair.” Gould summarized it well by stating just twenty-four hours before everyone “was in good spirits and possessed of every luxury a soldier can expect and many he ought never to expect.” “The regiment was well armed and equipped, one of the best dressed and neatest in the service.” Their losses from the affair were minor and most temporary due to straggling. “The effects of the retreat, together with the loss of all they had is very perceptibly disheartening.”

The regiment, or a further re-embodiment of it called the 29th Maine, would return to the Shenandoah Valley in two short years. They would fight with General Sheridan in the 1864 Valley Campaign and they would charitably spill their blood on all of the battlefields of that crusade. Their losses during that effort would be significant. Some may have seen it as an opportunity to even the score from their earlier mistreatment at the hands the citizens of Winchester and of Stonewall Jackson’s Army. Their sacrifice, however, would help safeguard the reelection of Abraham Lincoln and secure a final Union victory.

Winchester National Cemetery

1st-10th-29th Maine Men Lie Forever Interred at the National Cemetery in Winchester.

Note: I am very grateful to my wife Cynthia Dalton for her expertise in researching the women of Winchester for this essay. I am also very appreciative of Nicholas Picerno’s counseling in helping me understand the service of the 1st-10th-29th Maine Regiments and for his contributions of the images of Maine soldiers used in this blog.

Gould, John M. The Civil War Journals of John Mead Gould 1861 to 1865. Butternut and Blue. Baltimore, Md. 1997.

Gould, John M. History of the First – Tenth – Twenty-Ninth Maine Regiment. Higginson Book Company. Salem, Ma. 1871.

Mahon, Michael. Winchester Divided: The Civil War Letters of Julia Chase & Laura Lee. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, Pa. 2002.

Straader, Eloise C. The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee. Winchester County Historical Society. Winchester, Va. 2011.